Recently, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School posted a blog by Katie Shonk discussing an April 25, 2013 article appearing in the Wall Street Journal written by Zack Anchors (entitled, Mind Mapping Streamlines A Business Negotiation.). In the blog, Ms. Shonk recounts Mr. Anchors’ story about a financial advisor, Rob O’Dell, using mind mapping “… in an attempt to help a client negotiate the sale of his shares of the family business to his younger brother….” Before going further, you are no doubt wondering “What is mind mapping?” As explained in Wikipedia:

A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches.

[1] Categories can represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea.

Mind maps can be drawn by hand, either as “rough notes” during a lecture or meeting, for example, or as higher quality pictures when more time is available….

Mind maps are considered to be a type of spider diagram.[2] A similar concept in the 1970s was “idea sun bursting”.[3]

See also:

A quick search on the internet reveals many software programs that will help the parties mind map or, it can be done the old fashion way … with paper and pencil.

But, back to the story. It seems that the brothers had become at odds with each other, arguing over who was most responsible for the success of the business. In essence, it was a business divorce with many assets at issue.

To help each brother understand the other brother’s perspective, the financial advisor decided to use mind mapping:

In a meeting with the brothers, O’Dell created a mind map with the family business located at its center. Working together, the three men added branches to the map (working on a computer with a large monitor) that included the business’ interests, assets, and liabilities. A branch about commercial real-estate holdings, for example, extended smaller branches that listed property taxes, valuation, and other figures.

“The brothers entered the negotiation with a competitive attitude, believing they had to fight for what they deserved,” writes Anchors. “But the process of creating the mind map required participation and collaboration, rather than confrontation.” As the screen filled, it became apparent that their interests [1] overlapped.

The brothers reached an agreement that satisfied them both. O’Dell now uses mind mapping with all of his clients. Negotiators who would like to give this novel application a try can find free mind-mapping tools on the Internet.

It seems that the most important aspect of mind mapping is psychological; without the parties realizing it, mind mapping forces the parties out of an adversial mode and into a collaborative mode. By having to sit down together to work on a common document, the parties are forced to look at the issues and each other differently. It changes their psyche and reminds me of the advice I received long ago that one can change the mindset of the parties simply by having them sit side by side on the same side of the table rather than across from each other with the table acting as a barrier (protective or otherwise.). By having parties work “on the same side”, adversity morphs into cooperation.

Mind mapping seems to be a useful tool and one I will explore more fully on the internet and think about using in mediation.

…. Just something to think about.

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