Earlier today, I briefly sat in on a lecture delivered by a senior colleague of mine, MPP (Maarten) van Buuren, on international commercial law and negotiation. During his presentation, he spoke about the Harvard Principled Negotiation method, as elaborated in the seminal Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In.

One of the key components of this method is ‘focusing on interests, not positions’, which in other words means focusing on your underlying motivation for a stance on an issue, rather than just the stance itself. This point was underscored by showing a clip from Erin Brockovich (2000), a legal drama about a one-woman crusade against a multi-billion dollar company responsible for industrially poisoning a city’s water supply. In the clip which I have shared below, the novice negotiator sent by the company clearly focuses on positions – a final cash settlement of US$ 250,000 – rather than interests. (At the same time, when assessed against the Harvard criteria, Erin and her lawyer also fall short in some respects)

Aside from negotiation blunders, while watching this video, my interest was piqued by the parallels the movie’s story line has to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. (If you haven’t seen it in the news already: there is an unprecedented amount of lead and other corrosive substances in Flint’s water, caused by the local government rerouting the city’s water supply. The new source, the river Flint, is highly toxic. General Motors, the largest corporation in the region, is the only entity that continues to receive clean water.) I had read earlier that Flint-resident Michael Moore had already begun raising awareness of this human and environmental catastrophe but it was quite a coincidence to see today that the real-life Erin Brockovich had also become involved. See Michael Moore and Erin Brockovich’s interviews on this issue below:

the Hague


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