Most people believe that conflict is a natural phenomenon in our daily lives. So I am surprised when attendees at my seminars on negotiations and my graduate students inform me that they are not aware of any level of conflict when they negotiate. They’re missing the all important elephant in the room.
Two sources of conflict can be present in any negotiation. The first is rational conflict and the second is emotional conflict. What makes these two sources different from each other is that rational conflict centers on resources, roles and policies, while emotional conflict involves feelings such as anger, fear and resentment.
The first rule of any negotiation that involves a level of conflict is that you cannot solve the rational conflict until you resolve the emotional conflict. Solving a rational conflict is a cognitive process, utilizing a problem-solving approach. Solving an emotional conflict is an affective process, which involves working through feelings and restructuring of both parties perceptions. The later is more difficult to achieve.
It is important to be able to identify and deal with the five types of conflict that can occur in a negotiation.
There are value conflicts, those that use different criteria for evaluating ideas. These value conflicts are influenced by a person’s culture, ideology and religious beliefs. You can neutralize this type of conflict by not defining problems in terms of value, and allowing the parties to agree to disagree. Battling over value can easily cause an impasse and prevent the negotiation from progressing. This conflict can be avoided by agreeing on what standards or criteria will be used to evaluate the solutions identified by both parties in the negotiation.
The second type of conflict is one based on relationships and involves strong emotions, which can be based on stereotypes and misperceptions. Repetitive negative behavior can also be a cause of relationship conflict. The potential for this type of conflict can be reduced by establishing ground rules, policies and building consensus among the parties. Both parties must legitimize each other’s feelings and build the quality and quantity of their communications. Lastly, both parties need to encourage positive problem solving. If there have been previous negotiations that ended badly, they need to be addressed either prior to starting the negotiation or in the earliest stages of that negotiation.
The third type of conflict is a data conflict. These conflicts occur when there is misinformation, a lack of information, different views on what is relevant and different interpretations of the data. In order to avoid this conflict, agree on how the data will be collected and interpreted prior to the negotiation. In labor contract negotiations, it is not unusual for a team composed of both management and labor to assemble data on salaries, cost of living and other compensation issues. First you need to agree on what data is relevant to the negotiation. When the parties cannot agree, consider bringing in an outside expert or a mediator to break the impasse.
The fourth type of conflict is an interest conflict. These conflicts arise from disagreement on substantive, psychological and procedural interests. Strategies to defuse these conflicts are to focus on interests and not positions. Agree on objective criteria that will be used to evaluate the interests. The parties should search for potential solutions that address their interests, while looking for ways to expand resources or options. Lastly, consider making additional compromises that permit both parties to satisfy their interests.
The last type of conflict that can arise is the structural conflict. These conflicts are caused by destructive patterns of behavior. Unequal power and authority can also cause this type of conflict. Time constraints can also contribute to this type of conflict. In many negotiations unrealistic deadlines are used as a tactic and can contribute to this type of conflict. You can address these underlying causes by clearly defining roles, establish a mutually acceptable decision making process, and change to a collaborative approach to the negotiation. Finally, you need to replace the destructive behaviors with more positive ones.
Many negotiators are reluctant to confront the other party on their behavior, but confrontation works. By addressing the destructive behaviors, you are asking the other party to change those behaviors. If they desire the outcome of the negotiation to be successful, they will change them. You also have the option to extend the timeline and give the parties more time to complete the negotiation. You also need to motivate the parties to use a more collaborative model in order to achieve that win/win solution. In some cases you need to reduce the pressure from management or other outside parties so the negotiation can move towards a resolution.
In her February 2012 Mediate.Com article, “Emotion in Negotiation,” Nancy Hudgins offers six ways you can lessen the impact of negative emotions on a negotiation. They are as follows:
1. Notice them. The fact that you notice them will lessen their impact.
2. Name them quietly to yourself.
3. Take a few breaths and this will give the emotion time to dissipate.
4. Take a break, get up and walk around.
5. As Ury suggests in his book, “Getting Past No,” go to the balcony and look at the negotiation from a different view.
Look at the big picture from afar, instead of feeling you are in the middle of it.
These strategies will break the emotional reactivity and bring the parties back to a logical thinking process. This is where you can thoughtfully find a way to refocus the negotiation in a positive direction and get the elephant out of the room.
Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president and chief executive officer of Fox Point-based SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge Coaches & Trainers. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140.