What Role Does Negotiation Play in Conflict Resolution?

During my time studying and practicing alternative dispute resolution techniques, learning how to negotiate effectively has become increasingly useful and has challenged the way I approach conflict resolution. There are different purposes for the way in which negotiations are approached and impact they have within a conflict.

What role does negotiation play in conflict resolution? Negotiation allows an individual or group, with a vested interest in the outcome, to manage a conversation surrounding differences in opinions and objectives. The process and goal are designed to reach a mutually beneficial and acceptable end result leading to decisions and actions which resolve the conflict. 

Though the intended end result of the negotiation is always the same; walk away with what you need/want, the process, tools, and mindset can vary dramatically. The things that can impact the negotiation include:

  1. Your level of investment in the outcome

  2. Desire to reach a mutually beneficial end result

  3. The potential impact if things don’t work out

  4. Your attitudes and perceptions of the conflict at hand

  5. Previous experience with negotiation, good and bad

  6. Previous experience with the individual or opposing party

  7. Perceptions of the other individual or opposing party

  8. Expectations from others around the end result

  9. Your authority to commit to decisions reached

Roles of Negotiation in Conflict Resolution

The process of effective negotiation starts long before you are sitting across the table from someone, preparing to hash out details and come up with life alternating solutions to the problems of the world.  Chances are you’re not solving the problems of the world, just know that even if you were, the process and challenges would be the same, just at varying levels of severity.

Each step through the process and each consideration is aimed at bringing you closer to moving through the process as smoothly as possible to reach a long-lasting and mutually beneficial end result. Below are the roles that negotiation plays along the path to success.

Setting the Stage for a Productive Dialogue

If you come out of the gate like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, making demands and insistently bullying your counterpart, chances are you will come up against immediate opposition. Even if not under direct physical threat, if a person feels threatened their brain reacts as if they were, immediately going into a fight, flight or freeze response. Areas of their brain will become flooded with hormones rendering it increasingly unhelpful in resolving a problem and they will become far less likely to want to work with you.

How do you combat this, especially if you are passionate about something you need to resolve?  Start negotiation from the onset of your communication. Negotiate the little things and be respectful of their time and opinions.

  1. Find an effective way of communication (watch for tone and body language)

  2. Choose a time that works for both parties to meet

  3. Choose a location that works for both of you

  4. Ensure only relevant parties are invited to conversations (no one likes to be ganged up on)

  5. Give them the relevant information they need to be informed about the topic at hand

  6. Ask what they need to have a productive meeting/discussion

Each little thing that can be agreed upon will show both you and the other party that you are able to work together and can achieve positive results.

During this step, you are able to demonstrate respect for one another and begin building a relationship that can impact the negotiation process moving forward.

Be Positive Towards a Future Outcome

We want to work with people that want to work with us. Ensure the other person knows that you want to work with them to find a resolution together.

Most humans have the potential to be great at avoidance, be it at work, home, in relationships or society. When a threat is perceived, a positive outcome seems impossible or they feel a large amount of pressure around the outcome, a person may retreat, opting out of the process entirely.

When we are effectively negotiating, it is our job, as the skilled individual, to pull all relevant parties towards the table to achieve the most positive and beneficial outcome we possibly can.

By eliminating threats and starting conversations looking towards a positive future, people will naturally want to engage. There are several ways in which this can be done including:

  1. Ensure your tone is positive and words are future-focused

  2. Your body language is open and engaging

  3. Listening to concerns and find solutions to make the person feel at ease

  4. Pull conversations back to the future, instead of rehashing the past (it is important to hear and acknowledge what has happened in the past while stating you look forward to making changes to ensure past mistakes and problems are mitigated in the future)

  5. Creating a plan for if things do go sideways, how you will get back

  6. Only negotiate issues you have control over, you can discuss and acknowledge the impact of other areas, but you can not make promises or resolutions you have no control over

  7. Setting rules and guidelines for having an effective conversation. Ask what they need to have an open and honest dialogue, and share your expectations as well (confidentiality, no cell phones, respectful language)

Before a negotiation can proceed and be completed, what is outside the scope of negotiation needs to be agreed. – Christine Lagarde

Find Common Ground

Be willing to listen and share. Common ground is about building your relationship with one another. Though different objectives may have brought you to the table, quite often, we can find similarities between ourselves and the person sitting across from us.

Questions to ask to find common ground may include:

  1. What is important to you about resolving this?

  2. What impact will it have on you when a resolution is reached?

  3. What are the current issues to you/your work having this issue?

  4. Why is this subject important to you?

  5. What is your ultimate goal by achieving this?

  6. What about your current position on this subject is important to you? Why?

  7. What is your history that has brought us to this point?

  8. What is your current perception as to my/companies’ role in this?

When listening, ask yourself:

  1. Is there a past hurt?

  2. Is an apology needed to move forward?

  3. Do you share their frustrations or feelings?

  4. Do you have similar goals/objectives?

  5. Is your perception of this history/role played similar or different?

If you agree and share a history, feelings, and perceptions, fantastic! Share that with them. Work with your similarities to create a more positive future together. If not, if you are thinking this person is from Mars and they have no clue, accept that you have differences and acknowledge that they have a right to their perceptions and feelings. Work towards being empathetic towards the person, and use the new information you have to find a solution that will be mutually inclusive of what you both value and hope to accomplish.

Being Prepared for Future Issues

By working through conflicts and finding out more about the other person, we become increasingly aware of how they work and what makes them tick.

As we go through this process of discovery within each negotiation, we understand more about what could cause conflict and steps that we can take when making decisions to mitigate the potential for unnecessary conflict. When conflicts do arise, you will have a preexisting relationship and have developed a way of working through problems together.

Sometimes things change, people change, motivations and even priorities shift creating a need to negotiate conflicts we did not foresee. By taking the time to come together and continue to learn about one another, issues can be resolved more effectively, minimizing the impact on others and their effects on us and our business.

So much of life is a negotiation – so even if you’re not in business, you have opportunities to practice all around you. – Kevin O’Leary


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