Written by Ajil Najam
Right now, around the world, countless negotiations are underway, and the results will literally influence life and death. Leaders and their advisers at innumerable school boards, town halls, universities, C-suites and boardrooms, governors’ mansions, and presidential palaces are desperately deliberating over policies for social distancing, reducing density, setting restrictions, relaxing standard procedures, working remotely, teaching online, and much more that will determine the ultimate outcome of this pandemic.
In times of crisis, a great deal of decision-making is done through negotiation. Some crises — market crashes, natural disasters, even wars — can, to a degree, be anticipated and prepared for. The Covid-19 pandemic is not one of these cases. The speed and severity of its potential threats, uncertainty of information patterns, and, most importantly, its novelty, make it feel very different. These factors will lead many to panic. They also heighten the need for people to debate and decide on potential solutions together.
Indeed, the accumulated wisdom of negotiation theory and practice can and typically should be applied to such situations. However, in times of panic, there are at least two important “traps” that make this difficult or, worse, inappropriate.
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