How Can Negotiators Use Principled Negotiations To Resolve Conflict?

Principled negotiations can settle differences of opinion
Principled negotiations can settle differences of opinion
Image Credit: Damon Garrett

Let’s face it, conflict is a part of every negotiation. Both sides simply don’t see eye-to-eye. When this happens in your next negotiation, what are you going to do? You have a lot of options: you can walk away, you can start to threaten the other side, etc. No matter what you end up doing, your goal is always going to be the same: you want to be able to reach a deal with them. In order to make this happen, you might want to try using principled negotiations.

The Power Of Principled Negotiations

Negotiators know that principled negotiation allow us to leverage the principles of our opponent in order to win a negotiation. Parties can often reach a better agreement through integrative negotiation. This happens when we identify interests where we have different preferences and make tradeoffs among them. For example, if you care more about what show you see tonight, but your friend cares more about what you have for dinner, for example, you can each get your preference on the issue you value more, and both of you should be happy with your evening.

The real challenge comes when you have strong opposing opinions on an issue. Once again, for example let’s say you’re anxious to see a specific film, but your friend heard from a colleague that it’s not a very good movie. How might you go about resolving this dilemma? You could simply argue until one party backs down or walks away – that is, you might engage in positional negotiation.

However, even better, you might agree to get a better sampling of opinions by visiting a movie review site, like Rotten Tomatoes, to find out how popular the film is with critics and the public, or look for a review of the film in a publication you both trust. Seeking out additional evidence that would give you both more information on which to base your decision can be a smart move in any negotiation. If you both trust your chosen information source, you will be more likely to come to an agreement on how to proceed.

Using Principled Negotiations

So, what negotiators want to know is how does principled negotiation work in a business or personal dispute? Imagine for a moment that you and your neighbor have agreed to split the cost of having a new fence installed on your property line. However, the neighbor has come to you and said that the fence needs to be installed one foot closer to your property because the current fence is in the wrong place. You could disagree with him, but that won’t get you very far. A more productive course for you would be to get a copy of the plat of survey for both your properties and find out where the official property line is drawn.

You are going to want to frame each issue as a joint search for objective criteria. Remember that despite having conflicting interests, you have a shared goal to determine a fair outcome. Look for shared principles that both sides will find compelling. Be sure to choose criteria that will not be influenced by, or biased toward, one party or the other. For example, if you need a legal opinion, seek out a lawyer who has no past association with either side or who has a clear bias toward one side’s perspective.

You need to be reasonable about which standards are most appropriate to your situation and how to best apply them. When you and the other side are presenting possible criteria, you will want to keep an open mind. If each party advocates for a different standard, you need to look for an objective basis on which to choose which is more appropriate. One possibility is to select the one which is more widely used. Alternately, you might be able to find a way to reach a compromise between the outcomes suggested by your two different standards. Finally, you could always ask a neutral third party to choose a standard for you.

During this negotiation you will want to yield to principle, not pressure. Realize that pressure can take many forms: a threat, a bribe, a manipulative appeal to trust, or a simple refusal to budge. Such power tactics in negotiation can be hard for a negotiator to resist. If the other party is pressuring you to accept a standard that you view to be illegitimate, and if he or she refuses to listen to reason, you need to not give in; instead, walk away from the deal.

What All Of This Means For You

In every negotiation that we will be involved in, we are going to run into disagreements with the other side. This is just a fact of life. It’s how we go about resolving these disagreements that determines how good of a negotiator we are. Our goal is always to be able to reach a deal with the other side. The real challenge is to find a way through any disagreements so that we can achieve our goal.

It turns out that a powerful tool that we can use to resolve disagreements during a negotiation is called principled negotiation. We can use integrative negotiation to find solutions. This is very useful when different sides see an issue completely differently. This involves identifying a chosen information source that both sides can agree on. Your goal is to involve the other side in a joint search for objective criteria. You will have to determine which standards are most appropriate to your situation. Always make sure that you yield to principle, not pressure.

During a negotiation when you discuss your areas of disagreement through the lens of independent standards, you sidestep the common temptation to defend your own position and tear down the other side. In the process, you increase the odds of coming together – both in the short term and during the life of any agreement you may reach.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: What’s the best way to identify an information source that both sides can agree to use?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

All too often we can find ourselves in a negotiation that we fully understand is just one in what is going to be a series of negotiations with separate individuals or groups about the same thing. What this means for us is that we’re going to have to sit through the same sets of discussions, have the same issues brought up, and try to reach the same agreement with a host of different parties. There has to be a better way to go about doing this. It turns out that there is, it’s called a coalition.