Comments: On Becoming a Rationally Irrational Negotiator/Mediator: The 'Messy' Human Brain and the 'Myth of Rationality' - Part 1 of 5: The Irrationality of Being Too Rational

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michael webster, Toronto ON     01/12/10
You write: "To the rationalist, there is always an ‘expanding pie’ and never is it a ‘zero sum’ game of either/or. " This is false - the negotiator's dilemma is that any solution involves resolving the tension between creating value and claiming value. The standard formal model of bargaining is dependent upon the choice or interpretation of the no bargain outcome, which itself is modeled as a zero sum game. Further, the literature in strategic coercion is full of examples of where it overall goals are furthered by what appears to be irrational behavior. The scope of your criticism, appears to me, to be too wide.

John Folk-Williams, Rio Linda CA     11/25/09
This is a wonderfully stimulating article, as usual, on a basic subject that few writers try to formulate as carefully as you are doing in this series. I agree especially with the futility of imagining that persuasion occurs through logical argument. People commonly say after hearing the logic of a position, supported by evidence, that it just doesn't feel right or they're skeptical of motives, convinced that the intention is not to find the best answer but to manipulate. The ancient philosophers understood perfectly that persuasion depends on appeals to the mind and to the heart or feeling. I would say, though, that good mediation practice, especially when dealing with large public policy groups, goes beyond the rational models. Mediators are constantly reading the mood of a group and responding to all sorts of emotional undercurrents and motivations. In the end, though, as you say, most mediators try to separate that out and so become preachers of rationality. They urge solutions that adhere to objective criteria and other abstract principles. That only partly explains how agreement comes about. Thanks for a great article. I look forward to the rest. John

Sue    11/18/09
Excellent article. I look forward to the rest of the series. Thank you.

Clare B. Connaughton, Esq, New York City NY     11/18/09
Thank you for telling it like it is... and so eloquently. I tend to encourage parties in mediation to bare their souls but I meet many mediators who try to keep a lid on things in the name of 'reasoned discourse'. I also do mediation trainings in Latin America where the resistance you speak of is buried so deep within the cultural dictates of social etiquette: dichotomies on all fronts. I thank you also for giving me more food for thought and an appetite for further reading on the subject of "messy" brains. Humans are messy after all and I wouldn't have it any other way !