Conflict Management Skills and Techniques: The Benefits of Taking Your Dispute Public

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Adapted from “Should You Take Your Dispute Public?” first published in the June 2010 issue of Negotiation.

Given the frequency with which companies air their private grievances, there must be an upside to going public, right?

In fact, there are several.

First, once you’ve threatened to take your dispute public, following through demonstrates your willingness to stand by your words.

In addition, being in the spotlight can motivate both sides to address their differences with a new sense of urgency.

The faster you resolve your differences, the sooner you can get back to business as usual.

You might choose to make such a move with little hope of swaying your counterpart, simply to score points with the public.

When it disabled Macmillan “buy” buttons, Amazon did not express hope that the publisher would back away from its demands.

Rather, Amazon conceded that it would give in to Macmillan on e-book pricing. Amazon appeared to be focused as much on gaining the support of customers who were dead set against e-book price increases as it was on getting its adversary’s attention.

A public battle can also serve as an important signal to future counterparts.

Disney took such a tough stance against Cablevision in part because it knew it would be facing a larger battle with Time Warner Cable in the months ahead, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, Time Warner Cable responded to Disney’s WABC blackout by informing its New York–area subscribers that their access to ABC was “not at risk…yet.”

Taking a strong public position can communicate to other parties that you mean business and thus set the stage for future talks.

If your private negotiations are thoroughly exhausted and you’ve decided to take the matter public, here are five guidelines to follow:

1. Issue an advance warning.

Catching your counterpart off guard with a sneak attack is rarely a good move. Give the other side ample opportunities to respond to your requests and demands—and make sure they understand the consequences of refusing to negotiate with you.

2. Explain yourself.

Be ready with a clear public explanation for your behavior. Your customers will better tolerate short-term inconveniences if you explain the principles and goals behind your actions.

3. Keep talks private.

Your dispute may have become a public matter, but you and your counterpart should be able to avoid the temptation to further escalate your dispute by hammering out a resolution in private.

4. Meet your counterpart’s interests.

Because the other side is likely to feel coerced by your gambit, continue to demonstrate your sincere willingness to meet their interests as well as your own.

5. Call a public truce.

If or when your differences are settled, issue a joint statement that stresses your renewed commitment to working together on behalf of your customers.

Related Article: In Dispute Resolution, A Tale of Two Arthurs


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


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