Adapted from “Self-Analysis and Negotiation,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
“Separate the people from the problem,” advises the bestselling negotiation text “Getting to Yes”. That’s certainly good counsel when tempers flare and bargaining descends into ego battles, but it’s a mistake to ignore the psychological crosscurrents in negotiation. Unless they are addressed, a deal may never be reached.
Expert mediator Christopher Moore says his biggest professional challenge is often “changing the psychological relationship” between parties. In the same vein, Robert Baruch Bush and Joseph Folger say dispute resolution can hinge on getting each party to “consider the other’s situation or self from the other’s perspective.”
In most negotiations, we don’t have the luxury of a wise and trusted third party to help us understand each other’s motivations and view the situation in a more balanced light. However, say Stuart Twemlow and Frank Sacco, astute laypersons can spot certain dysfunctional psychodynamics.
One is the fundamental attribution error—the tendency to regard (and respond to) other people’s behavior as if it reflected only their personality and values, when what they do and say may actually be triggered by circumstance.
A second is self-serving enactment, the tendency to treat others in a way that serves your own need for self-esteem and power.
Finally, those who fall prey to self-fulfilling enactment have been painted into a corner. If someone treats you as if you’re hostile, you may unintentionally fulfill this expectation.
To build the common ground necessary to reach agreement, negotiators may first need to resolve their interpersonal issues. Recognizing and working to overcome adverse psychological dynamics can break the cycle of mistrust and pessimism.
I agree with your take on this topic.
“Separate the people from the problem,” immediately struck a strange cord when I first read it in Getting to Yes. Then, when I came to understand the influence that Mary Parker Follett had upon Fisher and Ury, I saw that she had something else to share on this topic. . . . . . .
In a talk she gave to businessmen in 1925 on “The Giving of Orders,” she makes a case for “depersonalizing the giving of orders” and searching together for “the law of the situation.” (Page 58, Dynamic Administration, MPF) . . .
. . .
After an explanation of the benefits of management and employees searching together for the best solution, she corrects herself, saying, “I call it depersonalizing because there is not time to go any further into the matter. I think it is really a matter of REPERSONALIZING (my caps). We, persons, have relations with each other, but we should find them in and through the whole situation. We cannot have any sound relations with each other as long as we take them out of that setting which gives them their meaning and value. This divorcing of persons and the situation does a great deal of harm.
. . . . .
I have just said that scientific management depersonalizes; the deeper philosophy of scientific management shows us personal relations within the whole setting of that thing of which they are a part.” (Dynamic Administration, MPF, p. 60)
. . . . .
I love the way Follett catches and corrects herself as she goes, offering a great role model to all of us to be rethinking our latest insights all the time. “Don’t clutch your blueprints,” she once advised.
Thanks for your essay.