By Michele Straube for EDRBlog.org
Music has so many magical properties. It can prompt memory. It can help create memories. It can access memory. It can set the mood. It can change the mood. All these characteristics are beneficial to negotiation and collaboration.
So with a little help from my friends,* here is a collaboration playlist. It includes music to help you remember the key concepts of successful collaboration; music to clear and focus your mind and attitude before a negotiation; and music to spark creativity in negotiation, or soothe your soul when agreement seems near-impossible.
The Underlying Theme of Collaboration
There is one foundational concept to effective negotiation and collaboration: focus on “interests” (what each party needs to accomplish), not “positions” (the perfect solution for one party that does not benefit the other party). This is the song I’ve used for years in class to convey that theme:
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones): “No you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.”
Variations on this theme involve asking a lot of questions to identify the other party’s interests, and attempting to develop solutions informed by an understanding of their perspective.
- Walk a Mile in My Shoes (Joe South): “If you could see you through my eyes, instead of your ego, I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’d been blind.”
- Spectacles (Jenna Lindbo): “Do you wonder what things look like in other people’s eyes? I’ll take off my spectacles and give yours a try. You should put on mine. I think you might be surprised to see what the world looks like through someone else’s eyes.”
- Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (The Animals): “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”
There are other approaches to negotiation, of course, but they often sound discordant.
- War (Edwin Starr): “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.”
Rhythm to Negotiation
The rhythm of negotiation and collaboration has been described by others as jazz, where the conversation often digresses, but sounds best when firmly anchored to the main theme (the parties’ interests). One of my colleagues uses actors’ improv exercises as a way to increase negotiators’ comfort with this non-linear rhythm.
Rhythm can also be viewed as the anchor of a musical piece. In negotiation terms, that could be the context in which you’re negotiating (aka Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA).
- The Gambler (Kenny Rogers): “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
- Irreplaceable (Beyonce): “Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.”
It’s All in the Tone
Effective negotiation or collaboration depends on the parties’ willingness to engage with each other, the affect they present, and their tone.
- It Takes Two (Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock): “It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.”
- Let’s Work Together (Canned Heat)
- Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (Elton John)
And some days, the negotiating instruments are just not in tune.
- I’m Not Ready to Make Nice (Dixie Chicks): “I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as hell and I don’t have time to go round and round and round.”
Tuning into Creativity
Good negotiators and collaborators know there is no one answer to any problem. They jointly develop multiple options to build a sustainable solution that meets everyone’s interests.
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon)
- Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) (“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now. From up and down and, still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.”)
Maintaining optimism that agreement is possible is key.
- We Can Work It Out (Beatles)
Experienced negotiators and collaborators embrace that this is not easy work.
- The Torture Never Stops (Frank Zappa)
- Under Pressure (Queen)
- Running on Empty (Jackson Brown)
- Running Out of Time (Hot Hot Heat)
I hope you’ve clicked through to some of the songs and they brought a smile or two to your face. Perhaps this blog post has been somewhat thought-provoking. At best, you’re already busy creating your own collaboration playlist to help you bring your best self to collaboration and negotiation. Music can create a sense of shared identity and connection, which is the heart of successful collaboration. Play with that.
* Many thanks to the following individuals who gave great playlist suggestions: Bob Adler, Conflict Management Spring 2019 students, Danya Rumore, Katherine Daly, Leilani Marshall, Tammi Lenski conflict resolution blog.
Michele Straube retired two years ago as the Founding Director of the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. She is blessed (or is it cursed) with being reminded of a song lyric in many difficult situations (“there’s a song about that …”). She has used music as a teaching tool and a self-soother for many years.