I’m starting this summarizing post on my way home, travelling from Beijing to Istanbul over an airborne version of the ancient Silk Road – the trade routes which have connected China and the West over the past couple of millennia. I certainly do feel that I have been on a trading run - I came with full bags of goods and left with bags of other goods – but the details of the transaction, the content of the saddlebags, are yet to be explored.
So far as the conference itself is concerned, this was certainly a successful event. New contacts were made, new ideas were voiced, and the borders of how negotiation could or should be taught have once again been challenged. I know that each time I challenged my own comfort or habit zones in conversations or workshops, I came out loaded with new ideas to try out, and newfound appreciation for people doing things differently than I am. I’ve already described how Andrew and Vivian’s tea ceremony workshop was able to draw out a new kind of negotiation conversation, and indeed, this led me to join a group of teachers interested in exploring how negotiation can be taught through engaging in class activities that are quite decidedly not negotiation. Another eye opener was Michelle LeBaron’s workshop on teaching negotiation through physical movement. I’m not going to give any details on this, as I plan to use some of the things she shared with us in the first classroom I encounter (well, not the online classroom I’ll be in tonight, but the first physical classroom) and I don’t want to give anything away. Let me just say, that if she had been selling DVDs outside the classroom, she would have cleaned up. Thank you, Michelle.
The conference aims to (and doubtlessly will) produce yet another book in the Rethinking Negotiation Teaching series. At the end of the conference, we held what has become a traditional ‘committing’ ceremony: going around the room, in a circle, with each teacher committing to writing on a particular writing. More than ever, taking advantage of the wide range of disciplines, nationalities and regions present at the conference, many of these papers will be co-authored across these divides promising a fascinating crop of material.
As I’m prone to overcommitting in these conferences, I had intended to curb myself this time, depending on what clicked into place at the conference. One piece I suggested writing to my partner-in-crime in Israel, was a short piece on using a particular method for evaluation of negotiation students. At the conference, however, this somehow turned into us writing a broad review piece on evaluation of student performance, with other authors contributing short pieces exploring individual methods – some new, some tried-and-tested. Over a dozen authors volunteered to write these pieces, so it looks as if evaluation is to become a significant topic in the book. I have some other ideas for writing, but I’m not going to voice them out loud or send them into the blogosphere, so that nobody can hold me to them afterwards.
Having arrived home, at the other end of the Silk Road, I'm now thinking about bottom lines. I feel this conference was a very good continuation of what we began in Rome and continued in Istanbul. And yet, somehow, I’m not sure that I packed my saddlebags with all of the goods I came to Beijing to get.
Let me put this a different way: Back home, it seems as if every consumer good that I buy – from hair accessories for my girls to the hard drive I recently installed in my computer – has ‘Made in China’ stamped on it. I have never been so excited about getting something ‘Made in China’ as I was by the notion of learning something unique, special, Chinese, about negotiation. Of course – I didn’t expect to process all China’s culture, history, business practices, communication norms, etc., in a week – but I had hoped to catch a whiff, something I could name and pack away to explore later on.
However, all the negotiation activity we did encounter in China (well, excluding the teeming bazaars which are really there for the tourists’ benefit) had ‘Made in the USA’ written all over it: the style and methods of teaching, and the content taught, all have their roots somewhere just off the I-95.
(This issue was cast into sharp relief by the fact that the food I ate in China was nothing at all like the so-called “Chinese food” I’ve encountered anywhere else, from Jersey City to Jerusalem…)
While in that sense I’m taking away less than I had hoped for, I’m very aware that this might just be me. First of all, maybe everything I had hoped to encounter was right there, but I just didn’t see it. Maybe I wouldn’t recognize ancient wisdom if it bit me in the face. I’m hoping that some of the seeds planted during the conference will provide me with opportunities to gain those insights in the future.
First of all, some of the things I’m looking for might simply sink in with time (one of the reasons I put off writing this summing-up blog post). Otherwise, I’m hoping that through the writing projects I’ve undertaken, new understanding will seep in. If not – I hope to find that my colleagues have done better than me at gaining these insights, which is one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to the book’s coming out. Additionally, I’m looking forward to the first few editions of Negotiation: The Chinese-English Journal on Managing Conflict, China’s first journal on negotiation and dispute resolution, in which I’m hoping to see local practice and thinking reflected.
As always, the most exciting thing about the conference was the way people were constantly looking beyond where we were right then, to future projects, research conferences and collaboration. So, while this is the last in this blog series on the Beijing conference, I’m looking forward to spin-off blog series on projects first brainstormed in Beijing.
Thanks for being out there :-)