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Palau, The Workshop Story

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As a site coordinator for Palau’s Protected Area Network, I have learned that one is not simply tasked with the protection and conservation of Palau’s ecological heritage, but also with the engagement of relevant parties in a rather interdisciplinary conservation effort. What I mean by this is that site coordinators cannot only be equipped with the technical expertise to analyze data; they are faced with engaging communities residing near protected areas on a daily basis, leading groups of rangers and conservation officers to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, having difficult conversations with those that work with and under them when laws are violated or conservation goals are not met, and negotiating within and without their own state to represent their interests in conservation, and funding.

The importance of developing skills in negotiation and communication and conflict management is so crucial for conservation professionals. I would go so far as to say that it is especially important in Palau, where no issue is privy to a select group of people; word here travels fast, and issues can become conflicts quickly if those involved don’t have the right skills to resolve disputes.

To that end, Palau Conservation Society was very apt to recognize how useful a workshop in providing conflict management skills – in which Insight Collaborative specializes – could be for a cohort of Protected Area Network site coordinators hailing from all 16 states of Palau.

For me, it was both a challenge and a treat to deliver Insight Collaborative’s material over the course of a three-day blended workshop (2 days of negotiation and 1 day of effective communication skills).

A challenge because this was my first full-blown workshop as both lead and sole trainer, where I was running cases and keeping a group of 20 participants engaged over three full days, and because it was my first time delivering effective communication material (having “difficult conversations”).

A treat because giving workshops is easily the most rewarding thing I’m doing during the Fellowship, and the knowledge that I am building the capacity of individuals to be more effective in a field that I care so deeply about—well it doesn’t get much better than that now, does it?

Palau Conservation Society really rallied behind me during this workshop: everything from helping with logistics, printing materials, setting up the room, not to mention awesome food and snacks, to ensuring that all 16 states of Palau were represented. I cannot thank them enough for their help.

On Day 1, I introduced the group to negotiation skills through the objective ‘7 Elements’ framework for measuring success in, preparing for, and conducting a negotiation. One or two in attendance had seen this before, but the large majority of participants were experiencing a structured method to negotiate for the first time. The highlights of the day were by far, the ‘Arm Exercise’ (you have to participate in one, I’m not going to ruin the fun by explaining what that is here!), and the one-on-one negotiations using the ‘Sally Soprano’ case from Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation.

A challenge, which I had noticed when giving the same workshop in India, was that groups unaccustomed to a highly interactive workshop gradually become more at ease with participating and buying into the engaging dynamic. So while generating lists and purposes and feedback together did require more time than I’ve seen compared with groups who have gone through a few similar training sessions (e.g., the MathWorks training in effective communication that Insight Collaborative President David Seibel led with Mr Stevenson Carlebach of Eque Consulting comes to mind here, in which many participants were there for refresher training and were used to our style of teaching), nobody had any trouble with volunteering when we generated a list of behaviors or tactics we found difficult!

The highlight of Day 2 was most definitely the intensity with which participants assumed their roles in the multi-party negotiation case ‘HarborCo’. Palau Conservation Society staff were surprised with how seriously the participants took the case, and how they were applying the skills learned only a day earlier in a complex situation. Although we can not realistically assign ‘points’ to measure success in a mutli-party negotiation, I am proud to say that both teams achieved very high point totals for their groups, with one reaching an outcome considered ‘Pareto-Optimal’ (best possible group outcome).

Day 3 was a change of pace, dealing with the more nuanced material, focusing on two of the 7 Elements: relationship and communication. Here we examine the idea that while we always try to separate people from the problem in negotiations, sometimes people _are_ the problem. Skills for having difficult conversations and making sure we communicate effectively to create and preserve strong relationships is a topic that all the participants were very excited to learn.I was thoroughly impressed with how quickly internal mindset shifts such as ‘Blame-to-Contribution’, and external skills such as ‘Inquiry’ and ‘Acknowledgement’ were employed here.

I was able to provide some one-on-one advice to site coordinators who had experienced difficult situations with their direct-reports, and many expressed interest in longer trainings and follow-up workshops of a similar kind. I really hope that Insight Collaborative and I will be able to continue working with groups in Palau.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience. I really think that aside from integrating conflict resolution into my career as an environmental attorney and public servant, I would also like to continue training people in the skills that allow them to gain value while strengthening the relationships that matter to them most.

The feedback from the site coordinators at this training was overwhelmingly positive. I suppose the silver lining for me was a comment from someone representing one of the Northern states in Palau. It went something like, ‘I don’t want to attend another workshop now that I know there are workshops like this available. You’ve set the bar very, very high for the rest.’

Now I’m blushing.