Conflict Resolution: To Avoid Destructive Competition, Take the Pledge

Limiting Competition in Negotiation and Encouraging Cooperative Bargaining in Business Negotiations

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conflict resolution to avoid destructive competition take the pledge

It was shaping up to be one of the most expensive Senate races in U.S. history. In January 2012, Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts each had raised millions in their contest for Brown’s U.S. Senate seat, and third-party groups were spending even more on negative ads.

Competition versus Co-opetition in Negotiation and Beyond

Both candidates had publicly tried to distance themselves from the so-called super PACs and other big spenders. On January 23, Brown and Warren put their money where their mouths were: they signed a “People’s Pledge” designed to end the influence of outside spending in the campaign.

Under the terms of the deal, Brown and Warren agreed to ask advocacy groups and media outlets to stop airing both positive and negative ads about the candidates. The pledge is symbolic – the Supreme Court enshrined virtually unlimited campaign spending into law in 2010 – but the politicians came up with a novel enforcement mechanism, writes Adam Sorensen in Time magazine. Both campaigns promised to donate 50% of the value of each media purchase on its behalf to a charity of its opponent’s choosing. An excess of ads in one side’s favor could bankrupt his or her campaign.


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.


Within days, some special interest groups had agreed to abide by the pledge, while others seemed to be searching for loopholes. It remains to be seen whether the agreement will be an effective, lasting truce or just another forgotten campaign gimmick.

For business negotiators, the pledge has a couple of intriguing applications. First, it shows the value of finding ways to engage in “co-opetition,” or collaboration with someone who otherwise appears to be your competitor. (For more on this strategy, see Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff’s book, Co-opetition, Currency Doubleday, 1997).

Second, the pledge’s highly punitive enforcement mechanism suggests the power of sanctions and other penalties to motivate negotiators on both sides of the table – as well as their constituents – to abide by contract terms during the implementation stage.

Related Conflict Resolution Article: Business Negotiations and DealmakingThe Art of Deal Diplomacy – What diplomatic skills does a leader need in order to effectively lead an organization? Often, leaders don’t consider themselves to be diplomats, yet they do employ diplomacy in achieving organizational goals and in resolving conflicts external and internal. Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty member Jeswald Salacuse writes in his book  The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing, and Mending Deals Around the World in the Twenty-First Century that business executives would benefit greatly from the lessons about negotiation skills gleaned from the world of international diplomacy. Calling diplomacy “the art of creating and managing relationships among nations,” it provides use negotiation techniques and negotiation tools for business executives to use to effectively build relationships and conclude successful agreements.


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.


Originally posted March 2012.

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