HNMCP: What originally attracted you to the Negotiation Workshop, and then to the Clinic?
Elaine Lin Hering: Every law student I spoke with as a 1L had raved about the Negotiation Workshop as the “one class you have to take while at HLS,” so I was thrilled to get off the waitlist and into the class. For me, the Workshop was full of personal “ah ha’s” around communication—Wait, there is actually a way you can talk about these things? You can express a difference of opinion constructively? Anger is okay? These were all revelations to me at the time and introduced me to new possibilities around communication and managing conflict. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and have as many opportunities for practical application and learning, so I signed up for the Negotiation & Mediation Clinic.
After that, I basically did everything ADR related that I could. I was part of two student practice organizations. I mediated in small claims court in Boston with the Harvard Mediation Program. As part of the Harvard Law School Negotiators (which is supervised by HNMCP), we formed a training corps, so my earliest experiences facilitating trainings were actually as a student. We did negotiation trainings for the Nantucket Firemen, NAACP and other community organizations. Those experiences helped develop my facilitation skills and also affirm that this was work I wanted to do.
HNMCP: Your HNMCP clinical project was with Tuesday’s Children, which organizes a youth summer camp designed to create a community and mutual support network of young people from around the world who are impacted by terrorist attacks. Part of the camp was designed to teach these adolescents negotiation, communication and conflict management skills. You and your partner Annie Levin ’10 overhauled and delivered the content for the modules on negotiation and conflict resolution, with particular attention to the emotional and social needs of the adolescent audience. What kinds of challenges did you face in this work? What surprised you? What sweet spots did this project hit for you?
ELH: This project was powerful for me because of the direct application to individual lives. The camp was about meaningful connection between people from diverse backgrounds, focused on constructive ways of moving forward from tragedy. It was humbling to be part of the work. The challenge was taking the content and approaches from law school, which could have been very theoretical, academic or removed, and making them resonate with teens. We learned the importance of humility. While we certainly had ideas to offer, the real work and insight came from the teenagers themselves, who were willing to be vulnerable and share their own stories and perspectives with each other.
HNMCP: What did you learn about yourself over the course of the project?
ELH: A key lesson for me from the camp was to get out of the way. As a facilitator, you’re creating a space for conversation, learning, and connection. But it is not, and cannot be, about you. It is a lesson that sticks with me to this day. How can this workshop, session, camp, meeting, or conversation be about the people here and the things that matter to them? That’s where we get engagement, movement and progress.
HNMCP: You were one of our earliest students to pursue a career in dispute resolution. What is it about the work that piques your interest?
ELH: I can’t imagine better work to be doing. It’s the opportunity to help people have difficult conversations, to get unstuck, to develop their own capacity, to do whatever it is they do—but even more effectively. Whether it’s creating life-saving drugs, running an investment bank, or building the latest tech platform, there are so many things others do that I could never (or really shouldn’t) do. But if we can help a team of researchers communicate more effectively with each other so they can find a cure for cancer? That is work well-worth doing.
HNMCP: What does a “typical” day look like for you?
ELH: A typical day is a lot of listening and trying to meet interests, to use negotiation-speak. Whether by email, phone, video or in person, I’m doing diagnostics to understand what’s going on, where the pain points are, and then figuring out how we might be able to help. I’m listening for tangible and intangible interests, and then developing options that might help meet those interests, to put it in 7 Elements language. Since we work globally, and I’m now based on the West Coast, the medium of communication varies but the stance is actually quite similar. What’s going on, and how might we be able to help?
HNMCP: What advice would you give our students today about pursuing a career in ADR?
ELH: Two thoughts.
First, notice where you’re already using your ADR skills in daily life. While ADR is a specific field, the skills are applicable in any context. Using these skills will help you hone them, gain practical experience, and ideally, positively impact your existing context. If you’re practicing law, you are negotiating. If you’re part of any group, there are stakeholders to manage. If you interact with other people, there’s inherently opportunity to manage conflict.
Second, create opportunities to try doing what you think it is you want to do and see what you learn. My time in Australia tested the hypothesis that this was work I wanted to do and that I might be effective in doing it. I had a strong BATNA of going back to the law firm. Test things out before making a jump, gather data, and refine what it is you think you might want to do be doing.