Symbolic Dimensions of Negotiation in the Middle East

(a Harvard Negotiation Project initiative)
Director: Daniel L. Shapiro

This research project, led by Daniel L. Shapiro, examines symbolic dimensions of high-stakes negotiations. While rational methods of negotiation analysis are certainly necessary to achieve sustainable, mutually agreeable resolution, there is equal urgency for decision makers to understand and address the emotional and identity-based aspects—what we call the “symbolic dimensions.” These issues are complicated and contentious because parties attach consequential meaning, complex narratives, and powerful emotions to “facts” and “interests.” Unlocking this meaning is essential to any mutually acceptable agreement—yet decision makers rarely account for the full complexity of this dimension, resulting in no agreement or brittle ones that easily snap.

This academic project is a unique, knowledge-generating collaboration with regional decision makers, drawing on relational identity theory, a conceptual framework developed by Prof Shapiro that has been shown to improve negotiation results in high-stakes conflicts around the world (2010, 2017). Through a variety of methodologies, we explore innovative pathways to address specific aspects of the framework, such as how to navigate taboos, address diverging assumptions of the sacred, and reconcile seemingly incompatible notions of identity. Outputs include an academic working group with regional influencers as well as publication of articles, working papers, and policy reports. This project is a collaborative initiative between the Harvard Negotiation Project, Harvard International Negotiation Program, and Negotiation Strategies Institute.