Conflict Resolution and Opportunities for Mutual Gains in Negotiation

Key concepts from the landmark book

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conflict resolution

Many of us have come away from negotiations wondering how a pleasant discussion turned sour. Why did the deal unravel at the last minute without any conflict resolution?

Poor communication explains many of our negotiation mistakes, write Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton in Getting to Yes, their landmark book. Here are four negotiation skills tips adapted from Susan Hackley’s May 2005 article “Can You Break the Cycle of Bad Communication?,” first published in Negotiation.

Here are their four keys to effective communication and conflict resolution:

1. Treat the problem, not the people.

Begin by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. What does the problem look like from that vantage point?

If you have an employee who isn’t performing up to your standards, before you tell her what she’s doing wrong, ask her how she thinks things are going.

You may learn that she isn’t getting the support and training she was
promised.

When you must deliver bad news, criticize specific behaviors, not the intent or the person’s character.

2. Learn to manage emotions.

Until emotions are expressed, you and your negotiating counterpart may have trouble truly hearing each other. Allowing the other party to have his say will reap benefits for you both.
“Freed from the burden of unexpressed emotions,” write the authors in Getting to Yes, “people will become more likely to work on the problem.”

They tell the story of a labor-management group that “adopted the rule that only one person could get angry at a time,” thereby preventing arguments from escalating. If you know that you will have your turn to vent, you’ll find it easier to listen when your counterpart has his turn.

3. Try a positive spin.

Communicating in a positive way can help you achieve your goals. When it’s time to share your views, speak only for yourself.

If you say, “Everyone is complaining that you’re not doing your share” to an employee, she is likely to be distracted from your message as she wonders who is complaining. Instead, talk about what you’ve observed and express your concern for her well-being.

4. Escape the cycle of action and reaction.

To head off this vicious cycle, Fisher, Ury, and Patton promote a method they call negotiation jujitsu, which involves avoiding escalation by refusing to react. Instead, channel resistance into activities such as “exploring interests, inventing options for mutual gain, and searching for independent standards.”

Have you ever had a successful conflict resolution that has lead to mutual gains? Share your experience in the comments.

Related Article: Negotiation Skills: Negotiating for Continuous Improvement – Monitor and Assess Your Negotiation Skills


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.


Adapted from “Key Concepts from Getting to YES,” Negotiation, December 2012.

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