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The Rhythm of the Deal: Negotiation as a Dance

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In all the literature on the theory and practice of negotiation, the governing metaphors have been games, war, and fighting. This is true not only for tactical schools of power-based negotiation but even for more constructive, interest-based approaches. Our language is infused with talk of tactics, flanks, concessions, gaining ground, and winning.

This article explores the possible consequences of abandoning this picture in favor of the less-explored metaphor of the dance. We argue that both the content and the process of negotiation can change dramatically once we think of bargaining as an aesthetic activity that can provide intrinsic joy as well as extrinsic benefits. Such a “dance” provides plenty of room for competition as well as cooperation, as movements can be spirited and confrontational as well as smooth and harmonious.

We identify many forms of dance that can occur within negotiation and explore three: the dance of positioning, where passions and presentations interact proudly; the dance of empathy, when the partners come to better understand each other; and the dance of concessions, where the deal is struck and the music concludes.

Finally, we discuss how the dance can be employed pedagogically, in teaching and training negotiation and mediation. In particular, the Brazilian dance of capoeira illustrates holistically and experientially how movement and rhythm can be interpreted both as fighting and as dancing and how we can come to see a process as both aesthetic and purposeful at the same time. First feeling, then thinking, and, finally, speaking, we can use this medium to explore the dynamics of confrontation and cooperation in a negotiation setting.
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Keywords: bargaining; capoeira; concessions; dance; negotiation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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