CONFLICT RESOLUTION OR NEGOTIATION

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STEP FIVE: Watch out for these common pitfalls in negotiations.

 One of the most common mistakes is assuming that one proposal (usually yours) will solve all the problems. So, forget about finding "the best single answer." In most situations, a good compromise is made up of several changes that benefit you the most (and the other person a little) and an equal number of changes that benefit the other person. So, don't argue over every proposal made; the task is to find the best combination of changes. That is why brainstorming is so helpful.

 Perhaps the most serious pitfall is failing to agree about how to make decisions. If this is left unclear, naturally people will start using all the power they have to get their way, including threats, power, withdrawal, crying, personal attacks, amassing personal support from friends, saying "Take it or leave it," and so on. This is destructive. In "win-win," the two people must agree on the basis for deciding, e.g. the proposed change is fair, it hurts no one else, it is reasonable, it is likely to produce the desired outcome (meet our "interests"), etc. Use reason, not emotions (such as a determination to get one's way). Thus, decisions are based on principles of justice and logic, and on rational expectations about effectiveness, if that is what both parties agree on.

 Occasionally, you may misjudge the type of person you are dealing with, e.g. you may assume the opponent is a congenial, dependable person willing to do "win-win" negotiation but find out in the final stages that he/she is really a determined, hostile barracuda. That is a risk. However, win-win negotiating is based on the assumption that most people will see the wisdom of being fair and seeking an optimal solution for both sides. It certainly would be a mistake to assume that every adversary will be inconsiderate, unyielding, and hostile. Sometimes, though, tough and even mean negotiations can't be avoided.

 Max Bazerman (June, 1986) describes five common mistakes while trying to resolve more competitive negotiations: (1) as mentioned before, believing the other person must lose for you to win. (2) Discovering too late that more information was needed, e.g. "Gosh, I should have had the valves checked before I bought the car." (3) Making extreme demands, investing too much in getting your way, and, thus, becoming reluctant to back down (and, in the end, not getting the promotion or the improved relationship). It should be a warning sign to you when you start to use anger or try to make your opponent look bad or weak. (4) There is a consistent human tendency to believe that we are right and are being reasonable. Much more often than we realize, other people disagree with what we think is fair. Therefore, get an unbiased outside opinion. Negotiators, who are realistic and willing to see other views of justice, are more successful compromisers. (5) If you are thinking mostly in terms of what you could lose, you are likely to hold out for more--and lose everything. For some reason, most people will take a sure small gain over a risky greater gain but not a sure small loss over a possible larger loss. We hate to lose, even by a little. The wise negotiator facing big losses may quickly "cut his/her losses." However, when you have accepted a small loss, emphasize to your opponent what he/she has to gain by your cooperativeness.

 Lastly, watch out for deceptive, mean, and selfish techniques (see Table 13.1). Not all the strategies in the Table are bad (indeed, some are quite good) but they are basically "win-lose" ploys used between adversaries who do not trust or care much for each other.


Table 13.1

Guidelines for tough bargaining

  1. "If you don't ask, you don't get." Don't be shy about asking for what you want and working to get it.

  2. Start by getting all the information you need. Example: if buying a used care, have the car tested by a good mechanic and find out what repairs are needed now or in the near future. Also, find out what similar cars are selling for, how much the bank will loan you on such a car, what insurance will cost, the repair record of similar cars, the resale value, and so on. Decide what your initial offer should be and how high you will go.

  3. It may be wise to first negotiate for something you don't want, e.g. a car that isn't your preference, in order to get information about the sales methods of the salesperson and the agency, to establish yourself as a serious negotiator, to get them to invest more of their time so they will feel more pressure to make a sale, and for you to get more practice at bargaining.

  4. Try to avoid making the first offer. If you do, always give yourself room to negotiate (and let the other person "win"). Example: If you want to sell your house for $100,000, you must ask for $110,000 or so. Before bargaining, know the "top price you will give" or the "lowest price you will take" and stick to it.

  5. Always know the difference between what a person needs (must have) and what he/she wants (would like); put priority on getting what you need, not on getting everything you want. On the other hand, the other person may only mention what he/she needs and not what he/she wants; thus, discovering and meeting his/her wants may be very helpful. Example: a job applicant may be negotiating for a higher salary but really wants more status, different title, more responsibility, bigger office, less stress, etc.

  6. After the "opening positions"--asking price and first offer--are established, you should make concessions very slowly and in small, decreasing amounts. Give a concession only when the other person won't give you any more and only when you can get something in return.

  7. If possible, offer a concession that doesn't cost you anything but seems valuable to the other party, then ask for another significant concession from him/her. It may be possible to make up a big issue or problem, discuss it at length, make it seem important to you, and pretend to make concessions in this area if the other side will make additional concessions to you.

  8. Shake your head and frown at the other person's offers. The silent treatment makes most people uncomfortable. In some situations, it is beneficial to keep the opponent mildly threatened and uncertain, e.g. you might threaten to sue rather than continue negotiating, the union might threaten to strike, one spouse might threaten to divorce the other if changes aren't made, etc.

  9. Information is power, so get as much information as you can about the object for sale, about the market, about the seller, and give as little information as you can about yourself. Example: if you know exactly what the car cost the dealer, you can bargain up from that price, making the dealer justify each additional cost, rather than your trying to get the dealer to come down from the list price. And on the other side, don't tell them that Daddy is buying the car for you and he is a well known lawyer (unless he is the agency's lawyer). Use power when you have it; otherwise, delay and stall

  10. Sales people know that little decisions are made quickly and without much thought after a big decision is made, thus the car agency will hastily sell you expensive accessories, an unneeded extended warranty, a high interest rate financing arrangement, etc. after the car price is agreed upon. Watch out for that.

  11. Use your spouse (partner) to give you more time, e.g. "I have to check with my wife/husband" (just as car sales reps use the "manager"), or as a way to take an offer back.

  12. A tough bargainer is willing to take risks. He/she must be willing to say "I'd like to talk to the manager to see if he/she won't make a better offer" or to say "no deal" and walk away.

  13. Communicate that you are at your bottom line by making smaller and smaller concessions up to that point, actually taking back (reneging) some concession you have already made ("Oh, I went too far--I can't do that"), or by saying "I'm not going to give any more."

  14. If necessary to come out on top, many people may think "dirty tricks" are acceptable--or even a sign of cleverness. These would include deception, falsely citing some authority, personal attacks, making the other person feel uncomfortable, using threats, etc.

  15. In the end, help the other person look good, believe that you are at your rock bottom price (the best deal possible), and feel that he/she has "won." Thus, a "win-win" settlement (in appearance only) is frequently possible. Announce that the other party is the winner!

STEP SIX: What to do if and when the going gets tough.

 Keep in mind a saying by Jandt and Gillette (1985, see below): "The relationship is much more important than the conflict." Stress to the other person the importance of a positive future. Look for the opponent's real reasons. Ask him/her why he/she is resisting giving in on some issue. Maybe the other person will start talking about his/her needs ("interests") and reveal his/her underlying motives. If it is a marital conflict, perhaps the histories of both partners need to be considered: What happened in the last marriage? Are childhood experiences still producing fears and insecurities? (See chapters 10 and 15.)

 If the opponent attacks your position or you personally, listen politely and then try to divert his/her thinking into the constructive development of a workable option by saying, "That's interesting, what other ideas do you have that would improve this plan?" Stick with the win-win philosophy.

 On the other hand, it would be foolish not to even consider the possibility that the negotiations might fail to produce a wonderful solution. Do all that you can to plan or even develop good alternatives for your life in case this effort is disappointing.

 When the discussion continues to be heated and opponents seem impossibly at odds, it may be helpful to take a break. If there is a stalemate, it may be fruitful to call in a mediator. In marriage counseling and divorce settlements, mediators are especially helpful. Labor disputes profit from a negotiator. When the animosity is so intense that it blocks all progress, someone else has to intervene. When President Carter invited Egypt and Israel to Camp David, the two countries couldn't negotiate face to face, instead the United States drafted a written proposal and had each side respond to it, i.e. tell why they didn't like it. Then the United States drafted another proposal. Eventually, 21 drafts later, the Camp David Accord was signed.

STEP SEVEN: Agree upon the best compromise solution available. Try it out.

 Consider the pros and cons of each possible solution, based on the criteria you have agreed to use. Do this cooperatively without either person dominating the decision-making process. No solution is possible that will completely satisfy both parties but both parties can be equally satisfied. It takes time to achieve this balance and still have a solution that both parties see as a definite "win," not over the opponent but over the problems.

 Work out the details of how to carry out the solution. Who does what when? Be specific. What responsibilities does each person have? Decide how to determine if the agreement is working well.

 Try out the solution for a week or so, then re-evaluate it. Set a date to discuss your progress. Praise each other for making contributions to the solution. Make more changes as needed.

Time involved

 The essence of negotiation is being well informed, patient and tolerant. All these things take time. Yet, the better deals, the fairer agreements, and the more cordial relations should make it worth your time. In many cases, it may be much faster to have cordial, informed negotiations than to have prolonged struggles to "win" and put down the other person.

Common problems

 The obvious problem is losing your patience. Once you start attacking the other person--putting him/her down, attributing evil motives to him/her, calling him/her names--you are hardly in a position to ask for cooperative and respectful decision-making. Parents and supervisors often feel they can demand obedience, "do it because I'm the boss," but in the long run, this kind of compliance with an authority is not either a productive or a happy arrangement. The recommendations in this method are opinions of several experts (see references) in conflict resolution, not research-proven techniques. They are the best ideas we have at this time.

Several problems and common misconceptions are mentioned within the steps above.

Effectiveness, advantages and dangers

 Thomas Gordon claims that the "no-lose" method of settling parent-child disputes has many advantages: both are more motivated to abide by the mutually decided upon solution, better solutions are created in this cooperative atmosphere, the child learns responsibility and problem-solving skills, the egalitarian relationship yields more love and less hate, and each person is trusted and respected as an individual. Obviously, the situation is not so cordial with a used car salesperson or a gruff boss.

 Any method which reduces the animosity and stress in a conflict situation is worthwhile. One danger is not taking the time to negotiate well. Another danger is the outbreak of animosity, regardless of how well win-win negotiation is attempted.

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