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Boston-July 11-22, 2007

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July 11, 2007

Wish List: #1

I mustered the courage to sample the first item on my wish list.  Looking back at my list, the number one item was belly dancing.  At the time, I had added this to my list more as a dare to myself to stretch.  I wanted to do something that was so new and unfamiliar that I would either love it or never try it again.  In addition, because belly dancing was new, I would have no former experience to build on but no former experience to which to compare my current experience.  I thought this would be an appropriate push because once I develop an area, interest or expertise, I usually stick with the area and related areas rather than constantly testing new ground.

I also added belly dancing to the list because I had my own prejudices against the dance and I wanted to overcome them.  The historical use of belly dancing as a seductive form of male entertainment was the basis for my mixed feelings.  I wanted to see if I had too quickly judged the dance form.

My third reason (and justification) for pursuing this item was to help myself prepare for my fellowship placement in Turkey (which will begin in mid-September).  From Turkish female acquaintances and time spent in North Cyprus, I learned that most social occasions including birthdays, circumcisions, weddings and even social evening dancing requires a basic body knowledge of belly dancing movements.  The music at popular events often uses rhythms that cannot be danced to in a North American way without inviting immediate detection (as a foreigner) and probable ridicule.

Walking into the first class and seeing women of all shapes, ages, and dance abilities, I knew that there must be something more to the dance than pure matter for male entertainment. The teacher quickly affirmed this suspicion by explaining to us – as the introduction to the entire lesson – that belly dancing is an incorrect name for the art.  It was the name given by Western (male) explorers who traveled East during the Ottoman Empire and during the more prude years of the Victorian era. The explorers were shocked to see that as part of the dance women’s bellies (rather than legs, arms, faces as in ballet) were exposed. Thus these men dubbed the dance “belly dancing.”

In contrast, the term in Turkish or Arabic is “the dance of the East.” Additionally, the dancing has almost nothing to do with your belly.  Due to the Western English name, our teacher felt the dance had received a more scandalous rather than reverent reputation than it deserves.

After this introduction, we began to slowly move through the fundamental moves.  Having tested many sorts of dance before, I was shocked by how naturally this particular dance fit the female body.  The movements worked with rather than against natural balances and connections of joints, muscles, and bones.

I was also surprised by the dance’s inclusiveness. Unlike ballet, for example, women of all sizes and ages could easily achieve the same beauty dancing this dance.  It was demanding, but demanding across body types and ages rather than favoring particular ones.  Truly a dance of women and, I began to realize, for women. I could gradually feel the dance building confidence in me and in the women around me rather than taking that confidence away.

Would this feeling have lasted, I wonder, if we had changed from dancing for each other to dancing a spectacle before an audience of men?      

July 14, 2007

Effective Communication….Across cultures

During my most recent Turkish lesson, my teacher was struggling to explain to me how in Turkey it is customary to address strangers we encounter with familial titles such as “older sister” “older brother,” “auntie,” or “uncle.”  Each title may also be accompanied by an appropriate body gesture.

Yet, she stressed, you must be very careful when and to whom you address these titles and gestures.  If you mistake the context or the appropriate age deferential, the same title (or lack of title) will be considered an insult. For example, you may address any female stranger on the street as “Teze” (aunt) IF she is at least 30 years older than you and over 50 years herself.   Used correctly, my teacher explained that this insider knowledge will demonstrate to people that I not only took the effort to learn their language but also to respect them by learning their culture.

After this lesson, I walked home thinking about this practice and how it might change communication between strangers in a society.  If I were to begin a conversation with “older sister,” would I then communicate differently?  Would the stranger react to me differently?” 

July 17, 2007

Impact of Mediator on Negotiation

A debate broke out during one of my Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative Conference (HNII) workshops today.  (I have been attending this conference this week.) It concerned to what degree the mediator in a negotiation should actively and purposefully influence the discussion.  One participant described the mediator’s role at a minimum: “a mediator,” he said, “should simply be there to facilitate the conflict natural flow.  Like water, conflict should come to settle at its natural level.  [A mediator] should not try to impose herself on the process.”  

Upset by this description, another participant responded, “What if that conflict involves a case like Darfur where people are being killed?  How many more will be killed before that conflict ‘settles’?”  Another individual chimed in “when you simply let the water settle some people get drowned.”  These two participants thought it was the mediator’s job to prevent anyone from drowning.

I think it is nearly impossible, as a mediator, to not influence the proceedings. Your mere presence, choice of ground rules (or lack of rules), sense of power, ability to be witness to the proceedings will influence the process and outcomes.  Yet, should we as mediators (as opposed to advocates) actively seek to influence the process to balance imbalances, speed up proceedings, or introduce un-represented voices?  For example, we focused a lot on how to make community voices of women heard in conflict zones.  Some advocated that the mediator highlight the disempowered voices.  Taken to an extreme, however, the mediator will become the women’s voice while simultaneous taking it away from them again.  At the same time the mediator will lose the trust of other parties in the negotiation.

I do not think I have a clear answer to this tension.  The debate will continue on in my head, however, as I continue on with meditations.  Perhaps by the end of this year I will have a clearer sense of how to strike the balance between avoiding harmful interference and contributing helpful intervention.

July 20, 2007

Is The Mind Enough?

Reflections on the Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative Conference

The Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative Conference (HNII) ended today.  I am still processing the lessons learned but one looming question hovers above the others: Is it enough to learn through thinking the tactics, skills, rules, and processes of negotiation to become a good negotiator?  Or, must you also engage you heart or even – as presenters at the conference argued – your spirit in the learning process?

As a newcomer to the field I am still struggling with learning the various techniques of negotiating such as arriving with a strategy, discussing interests not positions, generating multiple options, and only accepting if the option is best than our alternatives.  Each of these ideas can be easily explained to the general public and easily understood.  Learning them can seem like learning a math formula for a attaining a desired result. 

Yet, in one of the classes I attended during HNII, the presenter, Erica Fox, argued that you will never learn to be a successful negotiator if you do not also invest your feelings and spirit into the negotiation.  She described the role of a mediator as the social prosthetic limb for the parties in conflict.  “Parties come with a string of emotions,” she explained.  “One core element that parties in conflict usually lack is compassion.  It is my job as the mediator to be the compassion, the attentive listening, and the empathy in order for the process to be successful.” 

“When I teach negotiation,” Erica continued, “I can instruct you to ask questions, show interest in the other person’s words, affirm and paraphrase what they are saying, but this alone will never help you to do these things naturally….to achieve that you must work from the heart and spirit as well.”

Musing on her statement makes me on the one hand more intimated by the prospect of studying this field.  It is complicated enough to first understand and then memorize the scores of techniques and concept diagrams.  On the other hand, Erica’s assertions make the holistic design of the Insight Fellowship clearer to me.  I now have a deeper appreciation for the fact that guidelines push us to not only learn the skills and test their application but to also pursue simultaneously individual reflection and development.

July 20, 2007

Multi-layering

One of the tenants of our Fellowship is “multi-layering.”  As I understand this, we must seek to create the richest of experiences for ourselves by pursuing multiple goals, activities, and interests simultaneously.  I loved the idea when I first read it, as I hoped it would bring some needed balance into what could otherwise be intensely work-filled months.   I naturally tend to resist meaningful multi-layering because I perform best when all my energy and focus is directed towards one task.  Thus through making an effort to live this tenant, I was also fulfilling another: stretch beyond your comfort zone.

When I arrived in Boston I already had a list of items I meant to use to add layers to my Fellowship experience.  Some of the items – such as belly dancing and taking walks in new neighborhoods – came from my wish list.  Others, however, came from the realm of future planning.   Perhaps precisely because I am not adept at multi-layering I have trouble working on things that will affect my not so distant and my distant future without in some way sacrificing my present work.

For example, in high school I alternated between giving all my energy to SATs for a few weeks, then desperately catching up on schoolwork for the next few rather than trying to tackle and balance both at once.  This summer I decided to try just this: I have been taking Turkish Lessons (in preparation for my placement in Turkey) and studying intensely for the GRE (in preparation for graduate school applications).

After one month I have had some time to evaluate my progress at multi-layering.  First, I realize that I can multi-layer in this way without completely dropping other areas in my life.  In fact, there is far more overlap between one of my areas of focus and the others than I would have expected. This overlap makes it easier to consolidate the mental energy to tackle all. 

My second observation, however, it that it is a bad idea to multi-layer in the same realm of performance. All my areas of multi-layering are in the mental realm rather than in the emotional, action-based, or even the spiritual realms.  I think this means that multi-layering for me has led to more exhaustion than rejuvenation.  Alternating one mentally challenging project with a walk by the river, live music, a couple chapters from a favorite novel might do the trick in the future.

July 22, 2007

Training on Wall Street

I still remember an experience discussed in one of my college social psychology courses.  It was called the Wall Street and community game.   In this particular study both groups of individuals were asked to perform the prisoner dilemma exercise.  However, in one condition researchers told the participants that the exercise was called the “Wall Street” game and in the other condition researchers told individuals that the exercise was called the “community game.”

Given these conditions, researchers found that this random sampling of college students was transformed in a self-fulfilling prophecy into the actors in their respective games.  Those playing the Wall Street game used competitive and protective strategies, undercut at any chance possible, and left the table feeling justified at having prevented the other side from winning even if it meant they themselves lost.  In contrast, the other group used collaborative strategies and risk taking (or trust building) strategies and experienced shared satisfaction at win/win outcomes.

Today I attended an Insight Partners training for financial market traders.  It took place in the heart of Wall Street with employees of one of Wall Street’s most respected institutions.  Walking through the long plush hallways, looking out over views of the expansive Manhattan cityscape, and even chancing on a private tour of the institutions’ trading floor, I felt a rush of the atmosphere going to my head.  The sense of power instilled by the place felt easily contagious. Given this context, I was convinced that this would be the most difficult place to hold a workshop on collaboration. 

Imagine my curiosity when the Insight CEO, Patrick, as the lead trainer, proposed that our Wall Street participants play a version of the prisoner’s dilemma game!  How was Patrick going to communicate a message of collaboration to the audience if scientists working at universities could not create collaboration with Wall Street role-plays?

Six hours later Patrick had the audience convinced.  The lesson I was left with was: if some of the toughest and most successful individuals in business today will accept the message of expanding value, win/win, collaboration, trust, good communication, and relationship as essential for expanding profit (after 6 hours…..) then the rest of us should be convinced too.

Although I didn’t find the time to take my own photos, I wanted to share some insight into where I was: