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Empty Boxes


Ready to Start!

Empty boxes can signify many things, often the beginning or the end of something: you take out several empty boxes with the intention of packing away your life into them, to move off somewhere new and start fresh. I had a few of those kinds of empty boxes in Montreal before I left for Boston.

When I settled into my new apartment, I began to take ownership of my room (and my half of the kitchen, of course), placing books and collectibles from home on new shelves in new arrangements. A new room was quickly becoming familiar and once again, I had empty boxes: these empty boxes were those of someone who has come to a new chapter in their lives, and has decided to take the plunge into those foreign pages, laying out some landmarks of yesteryear to guide them forward.

About two weeks into my Fellowship with Insight Collaborative, the boxes are empty. I’ve settled nicely into Boston—so much so that I’ve even learned not to complain about the over-crowded train during rush hour. But not everything is empty. What is definitely filling up is excitement and information.

The first two weeks at the Insight Collaborative office were replete with logistics (organizing my office, phone line, getting access to training resources and fundraising archives through the Insight Collaborative server) and learning.

The negotiation and influence training offered by Insight Collaborative is based on the seminal negotiation theory book Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton and William Ury. I have set up a few meetings each week with Insight Collaborative President David Seibel to, well, be trained as a trainer!

These meetings consist of: a discussion on issues pertaining to my placement ideas, fundraising, my overall well-being, and problem-solving around any of those issues; introduction to the theory on negotiation and influence by David Seibel; and finally, an interactive session involving my practicing delivery of theory and David Seibel’s providing live feedback and advice. In this way, we create lecture notes and training material that are ‘living documents’, evolving and ameliorating with each iteration.

I especially enjoy this format of training for two major reasons: the first, is that through my interactions with Insight Collaborative President David Seibel, I am able to have a first-hand understanding of Insight Collaborative’s approach to teaching negotiation and the intent behind their substantive and aesthetic choices in delivering the material. The second is that live feedback helps me quickly integrate the crucial teaching points and negotiation theory into my own personal style of presentation, creating an approach that feels authentic while maintaining a consistently high quality and effectiveness.

I am slowly (but surely) absorbing some core tenets of the mindset upon which the Insight Fellowship is predicated. As a scientist and product of hard facts and numerical certitude, drawing conclusions and sticking to absolutes had become second nature: within a margin of statistical error, I was content to be sure about everything. My experience with reading Getting to Yes and learning from Insight President David Seibel, is that the first step to becoming an effective student (and teacher!) of negotiation and conflict management, is to question certainty and absolutes. By coaching myself to become more careful about drawing conclusions and making sweeping statements, I am not only preventing myself from making unproductive assumptions, I am also beginning a line of inquiry that moves beyond conclusions and into the thought process and pool of available data that led to those beliefs. At Insight, we call this the Ladder of Inference.

In addition to the Ladder of Inference tool, other concepts I have been learning include:

  • Understanding the inherent tension that exists between our desire to gain substantive value from a relationship while improving, or at least not damaging, the strength of that relationship
  • Establishing an objective framework to determine what a successful outcome of a negotiation should be.

These past two weeks remind me of a race; not a sprint, and not even a marathon. Perhaps the best description would be an Olympic triathlon. It requires a diverse set of skills, indeed, but most important is the fluidity of transition from one stage to the next, the shifting of mindset to adapt to new situations and the ability to apply different subsets of skills to each leg of the race.

Over the next two weeks, I will be beginning my first major push towards raising funds for Insight Collaborative and my Fellowship. This will include, among other things, a great exercise in effective grant proposal writing.

The prospect of managing training, fundraising, organizing placements, and expanding my negotiation and environmental network might seem daunting to most. I do not deny the challenge that lies ahead, not to mention a week-long trip to the United Kingdom for a conference (not so fast! You’ll hear about this in another entry). But even with everything happening all at once, I can only say this: I am ready to start.