Baker News December 7, 2018

Student Reflection: Resolving Conflict with Dan Shapiro

by Jude Massaad

We are proud to publish student reflections on our programming and events. Check out this insightful reflection on our latest GBNN clinic by Masters in Conflict Resolution student Jude Massaad.

“Friday, November 30th: Harvard negotiation expert Daniel L. Shapiro introduces a groundbreaking method to bridge the toughest divides.As a graduate student in Conflict Resolution with a concentration on the Middle East, a highly complex and diverse region, I didn’t need to think twice before signing up for this event with Dr. Shapiro, who is widely renowned for the insights he has contributed to the field of negotiation.

My enthusiasm was fueled by a final project I was working on that focused on creating a transitional justice mechanism for the Middle East. The current crystallization of sectarian identities into political forms, the lack of political will, and the weak diplomatic ties between many of its nations are all hurdles I encountered while trying to formulate an adequate mechanism for the region. I was therefore eager to learn how the negotiation tactics that Dr. Dan Shapiro was to share with us were to feed into lessening the complexities that go alongside implementing any regional collaboration tool among vastly divided countries. As an Arab-American whose ultimate goal is to combat the issue of politicization and sectarianism in the Middle East through the fostering dialogue and mediation, I was keen on hearing all the tips and tricks of negotiation in the book.


My main question during the workshop was therefore: How can I learn to tackle the complexities of negotiation in the real world—such as emotional attachment to sectarian identities or anger fueled by historical and current conflicts in the region?


Dr. Shapiro shared five core motivations behind every person’s actions, that if met, will lead to a successful negotiation: Appreciation, Autonomy, Affiliation, Status, and Role. If one is able to make the other feel valued, respect that person’s freedom of expression and action, build an emotional connection with the other, acknowledge the other’s expertise where it’s due but also assert one’s own, and finally, avoid adherence to pre-established roles, positive emotions can be stimulated and a negotiation will be more successful. According to Dr. Shapiro, violating any of these five concerns—or simply ignoring them—will not lead to a successful negotiation.

After learning about these key concerns, I recognized that that they can be quite advantageous in understanding and influencing political struggles in Middle East. The key concerns that stood out to me were Status and Role, two core concepts that are heavily ingrained in the Middle East. Because large regional powers still dominantly affect power relations within and among Middle Eastern countries, the workshop made me wonder if perhaps stressing recognition of the status and role of key actors can be influential in opening doors for dialogue.

Expecting class to end on a positive, uplifting note, Dr. Shapiro impressively did the opposite: he showed us the reality and complexity behind negotiation by having all attendees partake in a heated simulation. Despite our best efforts, competition and aggression could not help but fill the room during the exercise, and it was as if our preceding 4-hour lecture on successful negotiation tactics never even happened. 

This exercise was a reminder of the complexity of negotiations. It renewed my motivation to bridge the divide between people of different backgrounds, especially after recognizing how hard it is to do so while being tested myself by this experience. I hope to take the lessons taught to us by Dr. Shapiro back to my community in Lebanon and to weave them into my focus on fostering more effective dialogue in the Middle East.

I look forward to attending future Baker Center events in order to further cultivate the out-of-the-box mindset Dr. Shapiro has taught us—events that will help students grapple with our most complex challenges professionally, personally, and globally.