A compassion-based approach
„Games and play can help resolve conflict“ says my friend and colleague Mark Young, President of Rational Games, Inc. What is more, helping negotiators and mediators engage in holistic games, play that engages the whole person will lead to better results. Mark believes that compassion is a winner over power play in negotiations, and his organization seeks to unlock this potential. But what does he mean by „Rational Games“? How can games be used in teaching negotiation? And how can a compassion-based-approach to negotiation win out over manipulation and pressure, especially in the business world?
I met Mark earlier this year at a small trainer networking event in Neukölln. I was intrigued: he is not only an independent author, trainer and consultant with many years´ practical and academic experience in the area of training negotiation, mediation and conflict management skills. But Mark has also actually negotiated for the United States Department of Commerce (under the first George Bush, but certainly not the Second) and negotiated with and against the Treuhandanstalt in Berlin, closing privatization deals that sealed the economic fate of the GDR! So this man can indeed be said to have been „sleeping with the enemy“. So why do I feature him this month on this blog?
A different way of engaging
What made me truly listen up was learning that Rational Games inot only engaged in helping big companies or public bodies negotiate more effectively, but that his work is increasingly focused on supporting NGOs and other nonprofit ventures in their efforts to use games creatively to resolve conflict. Rational Games is itself a nonprofit foundation both in the US and in Germany, and makes annual grants to projects like this. In addition, Mark selectively engages in other probono engagements (for example developing a digital game to teach conflict resolution in schools or financing a psychodrama theatre group in East Africa). Mark explains: „For us, games go much further than academic game theory, or simple roleplays in seminars. For us, sport is play. Music is play. Dance is play. Theater is play. The key is the delight and the letting go. Actually, life can be play.“
So even though this approach challenges my own philosophy of working only for the „good guys“ i couldn’t help but feel great respect for the scope and reach of what Rational Games has accomplished. And so I got curious and we agreed to meet again. Since then, we have started to work together, training diplomats at the Auswärtiges Amt this September and next teaching at the Soros University in Budapest this coming winter. In these engagements, we found our roles: Mark brings in his experience in playful negotiation, mediation and storytelling; I add to this my expertise on body language, presencing and establishing contact with an audience. Initial reviews from our clients is promising: We seem to be a good team and apparently two adds up to more than two. To quote Mark’s philosophy: together we are managing to „make the pie bigger“ not only for ourselves but also for our clients.
We love games
Maybe it works simply because we both love games? I use roleplay and theater situations a lot in my trainings, and Mark thinks (and does) likewise, bringing in techniques from improvizational theater (as well as the occasional surprise live actor) to spice the pot. „It is all about experiential learning“, he says. „Don’t talk about it or explain it. Experience it and reflect“.
But what I like best ist he life philosophy that this exemplifies. For Mark firmly believes that these principles go beyond the boardroom, and is committed to demonstrating and inspiring a way of living that focuses on understanding and respecting the interests and perceptions of others, and believes that you can still build a relationship without giving in on your interests and principles.
Skipping the dirty tricks?
As he says: „skipping the dirty tricks does not diminish your power. It increases it.“ Ethics and integrity are major power sources and you will not only feel better but also achieve better results with a non-manipulative approach, . This seems an unexpected approach especially in the world of high-level negotiations, where I would certainly expect bluffing and arm-twisting, rather than empathy and compassion. But Mark speaks from direct experience in this world, and that is unusual and impressive
For me, I can say that I very much enjoy working (and playing) together with this idiosyncratic negotiator and teacher – and I personally learn each time I see him teach. I look forward to taking our game further, and seeing our cooperation grow. So, if you want to join us in the play, and if negotiation or conflict resolution is a topic for your organization, do not hesitate to contact us!
Learn more about Rational Games Inc. http://rationalgames.org, and hear Mark tell his story at http://youtu.be/KH3kZ2P0ssc. Interested in a playful negotiation training? Catch Mark or Me!