Four Conflict Negotiation Strategies for Resolving Value-Based Disputes

Four conflict negotiation strategies for bridging the divide at the negotiation table

By — on / Dispute Resolution

conflict negotiation

In many negotiations, both parties are aware of what their interests are, and are willing to engage in a give-and-take process with the other party to come to agreement. In conflicts related to personal identity, and deeply-held beliefs or values, however, negotiation dynamics can become more complex and require alternative dispute resolution tactics for conflict negotiation. Parties may not be willing to make any concession that helps the other side, even if it would bring about a reciprocal concession that would be in their own favor.

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In these value-based disputes, there are four practical steps that negotiators can take to tone down particularly contentious negotiations, and help talks move forward in a constructive manner. Here are four conflict negotiation strategies for resolving values-based disputes:

    • Consider interests and values separately: Separate the person from the problem and engage issues individually at the negotiation table. Determine what worth your counterpart attaches to her positions and bargain accordingly.
    • Engage in relationship-building dialogue: Build relationships through establishing rapport or common cause, bringing your counterpart to your side while helping yourself to understand her interests and values at the negotiation table.
    • Appeal to overarching values: Appealing to common or shared values can help bridge the gap at the bargaining table by bringing you and your counterpart closer together in terms of bargaining interests. By establishing a common negotiating ground, you can begin to create value (and claim more value) using integrative negotiation strategies.
    • Confront value differences directly: The areas where you and your counterpart do not see eye-to-eye are areas of growth and opportunities for value creation. Understanding your differences, you can best work to reconcile them in order to achieve bargaining success.

Even in cases where resolution of a dispute is not possible, these four approaches will allow for greater understanding between parties, and clarify where the differences of identity and values lie. In many cases, however, following these steps will help ensure that a values-based dispute can be negotiated successfully.

Why Conflict Negotiation Works

In the realm of global politics, there have been numerous occasions when groups with diametrically opposed values and identities have, through the therapeutic effects of truth-telling, cast aside generations of hatred and mistrust and transitioned into the long, slow process of reconciliation. When we think about the divided societies that have managed to build a workable peace after decades or even generations of bloodshed, such as South Africa and Ireland, we ought to be encouraged.

In the diversity-campaign case, someone with experience managing difficult conversations could help to promote a more productive exchange at the empathetic level. Empathic understanding goes deeper than the cognitive understanding described above, as it aims to enhance trust, reduce defensiveness, and potentially change relationships for the better. The point of empathetic understanding is not to transform parties’ identities or values, but rather to help them engage with each others’ beliefs and move past stereotypes. Ideally, they will be able to overcome misconceptions and find a path to cooperation.

Negotiators caught up in values-based disputes need not aim for settlement in the traditional sense. Increasing our respect for views contrary to our own and learning to live with fundamental differences in values and beliefs are themselves laudable goals. When we engage in values-based dialogue, we may not resolve our disagreements, yet we can strive to learn more about one another so that we can more easily live side by side.

Which conflict negotiation solutions have worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments.

Related Article: Relationship Rules and Business Negotiations

Claim your FREE copy: Dispute Resolution

Discover how to improve your dispute resolution skills in this free report, Dispute Resolution: Working Together Toward Conflict Resolution on the Job and at Home, from Harvard Law School.

Originally posted in 2012.

Adapted from “How to Negotiate When Values Are at Stake” by Lawrence Susskind (Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), published in the Negotiation newsletter, October 2010.


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