Dealing With Conflict During A Negotiation

When conflict arises during a negotiation, it needs to be resolved
When conflict arises during a negotiation, it needs to be resolved
Image Credit: Matthew Wilkinson

Negotiating is all about having a discussion with the other side while using your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques with the hope of changing the way that they see the world. As expected, this kind of change does not always happen easily – a negotiation can cause conflicts to occur. When an issue flares up and conflict resolution is required, the outcome can be predictable: the conflict gets bigger and bigger, with each side blaming the other in increasingly angry terms. The dispute may end up in litigation, and the relationship may be forever damaged. As negotiators, what we need are negotiation strategies that we can use to resolve situations like this.

Don’t Let Yourself be Provoked Into An Emotional Response

As negotiators we typically make several “moves” in order to question each other’s legitimacy and assert our own power. This type of “shadow negotiation”, which takes place under the surface of a negotiation, helps to explain why discussions of concrete, seemingly rational issues can lead to angry outbursts, hurt feelings, and simmering conflict.

By demeaning, challenging, and criticizing you, the other side may be attempting to provoke you into an emotional response that will shift the balance of power in their favor. So how can you defend yourself against such moves without being accused of overreacting?

Interrupt the other side’s move by taking a break, which should give everyone time to gain control of their emotions, in addition to halting any momentum that is going against you. Try naming the move; that is, let the other side know that you recognize it as a power play. Correct the move, substituting the other side’s negative remarks with a more positive interpretation. Finally, divert the move by shifting the focus back to the issue at hand.

Don’t Walk Away From Value-Creating Strategies

Negotiators who understand the importance of collaborating with one another to create value will often abandon that approach during dispute resolution. They treat disputes as different from other aspects of negotiating and so they tend to view business dispute resolution as a zero-sum game—one in which only a single issue is at stake. The result of this is that they tend to look at the dispute resolution process as a win-lose battle, to their detriment.

You should be able to find the same set of value-creation opportunities in disputes as you do in other deals. If both parties would likely suffer reputational damage if their dispute went public, then they might agree to keep certain aspects of their dispute resolution process confidential. Reaching agreement on seemingly smaller issues can help parties build a foundation of trust and optimism that enables them to collaborate to resolve the main sources of their conflict.

Understand That Time Is Your Friend

How we view the dispute resolution process may change over time as a result of our experiences dealing with the conflict and with the other side. Rather than viewing your dispute as permanently intractable, try to view it as being constantly in flux.

It helps to remain in contact with the other side during dispute resolution. Doing so may allow you to encourage them that your existing approaches to the conflict resolution are not working and that the prospect of negotiating offers some hope of improvement. When negotiators recognize the importance of meeting regularly, they may be able to slowly work through their differences.

Another reason time can be your friend in dispute resolution? The departure of divisive leaders on one side of the conflict or the other can offer new hope for resolution after some time has passed. Take advantage of such changes by making a new settlement proposal, perhaps working through a mediator or other third party if necessary

What All Of This Means For You

Emotion plays a big role in every principled negotiation. Because of this, there is a very real possibility that conflict will occur during the negotiation. As negotiators, we need to understand this and we need to make sure that we have the tools that will be required to reach a peaceful end to our dispute.

During a negotiation you want to make sure that you don’t allow the other side to provoke you into making an emotional response. During a negotiation each side will make multiple moves, you need to be prepared to defend yourself when the other side tries to provoke you and shift the balance of power to their side. Negotiators understand the value of collaboration in a negotiation; however, when there is conflict we can walk away from this. We need to look for value creation opportunities even when there is conflict. Negotiators need to understand that that time is on their side. Everything changes over time and if we can just keep moving forward often conflicts can work themselves out.

In every negotiation that we participate in there will always be some conflict. What we need to understand is that we don’t want to allow ourselves to get emotionally drawn into this and instead we want to use the conflict to find ways to move closer to closing a deal. The next time that conflict comes up in your negotiation, take a step back and search for a way to resolve things peacefully.

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

Question For You: If you find yourself becoming emotional because of conflict in a negotiation, what can you do to calm yourself down?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

It goes without saying that when we sit down at the negotiating table, both sides have a different view of the world. We both want something and in order to get what we want, the other side is going to have to be willing to give something up. The fact that we all have different preferences means that if we are not careful our negotiations can grind to a halt. What we need to get good at is using our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques tofind ways to create mutually beneficial agreements during our negotiations that both sides will be able to live with.