How Negotiators Can Avoid Conflict

Negotiators need to know the best ways to handle different types of conflict
Negotiators need to know the best ways to handle different types of conflict
Image Credit: Terry Robinson

It would be nice if in the world of negotiations we could all just get along. We’d have nice negotiations and there would be no conflict between the different parties. However, as we all know, we don’t live in that world. Instead, sometimes it seems as though conflict rules the day. In fact, there seems to a number of different types of conflicts that we encounter during a negotiation. Just exactly how can a negotiator avoid having to deal with all of this conflict?

Dealing With Task Conflict

What negotiators need to understand is that in a typical negotiation, there are three different types of conflict that can arise no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques we are using. The first of the three types of conflict is task conflict. This type of conflict often involves concrete issues related to things like work assignments and can additionally include disputes about how to divide up resources, differences of opinion on procedures and policies, managing expectations at work, and people’s judgments and interpretation of facts.

From a negotiators point-of-view, task conflict may appear to be the simplest for us to resolve. However, task conflict often turns out to have deeper roots and more complexity that it may appear to have at first glance. Task conflict often benefits from the intervention of negotiation leaders. Serving as mediators, negotiators can focus on identifying the deeper interests underlying parties’ positions. Try to engage the parties in a collaborative problem-solving process in which they brainstorm possible solutions. When parties develop solutions together, rather than having an outcome imposed on them, they are more likely to live up to their agreement and get along better in the future.

Conflict Having To Do With Relationships

As though task conflicts were not enough, it turns out that there is another type: relationship conflict. Relationship conflict arises from differences in personality, style, matters of taste, and even people’s conflict styles. What negotiators need to understand is that in organizations, people who would not ordinarily meet in real life are often thrown together and must try to get along. It’s no surprise, then, that relationship conflict is something that can be common in organizations.

In order for a negotiator to resolve a relationship conflict issue, you might invite the other side out to lunch and try to get to know them better. Discovering things you have in common may help bring you together. If you feel comfortable, bring up the source of the tension and try to listen to the other person’s point of view. Resist the urge to argue or defend your position. When you demonstrate empathy and interest, they are likely to reciprocate.

Understanding Value Conflict

It turns out that there is one more common type of conflict that a negotiator can encounter. Value conflict, can arise from fundamental differences in identities and values, which can include differences in politics, religion, ethics, norms, and other beliefs that are deeply held. Although discussion of politics and religion is often taboo during a negotiation, disputes about values can arise in the context of negotiation decisions and policies. Disputes involving values tend to heighten defensiveness, distrust, and alienation. Parties can feel so strongly about standing by their values that they reject trades and deals that would satisfy other interests they might have.

In order to resolve these types of conflicts, we should aim to move beyond demonization toward mutual understanding and respect through dialogue. Shoot for a cognitive understanding in which you and the other side reach an accurate conceptualization of one another’s point of view. This type of understanding doesn’t require sympathy or emotional connection, only a “values-neutral” ability to describe accurately what someone else believes about the situation.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiators need to understand that in every principled negotiation there is going to be some conflict. People simply don’t get along that well and all too often different parties in a negotiation won’t always see eye-to-eye. When this happens, it’s very easy for conflict to sneak into the negotiations. When this happens, negotiators need to know how to handle the different types of conflict that they may be facing.

The first type of conflict that we may encounter in a negotiation is called task conflict. This type of conflict involves concrete issues. To resolve these types of conflicts may require the intervention of negotiation leaders. Relationships can become rocky and this can introduce relationship conflict. Taking time to talk with the other side can help to resolve this type of conflict. Finally, when two sides see the world differently, value conflicts can arise. To resolve this type of conflict you should attempt to reach mutual understanding.

There is nothing that any of us can do about conflict. It is going to happen no matter how carefully we try to avoid it. What we need to be able to do is to recognize the type of conflict that we are dealing with and then take the appropriate steps to deal with it. By mastering our responses to the different types of conflict, we can become better negotiators who are able to deal with whatever type of conflict we encounter.

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

Question For You: How can we get the other side to work with us to resolve conflict in a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The best negotiations happen when we sit down with the other side, have a discussion, make some concessions, and then reach a deal that both sides can live with. We like these kinds of negotiations. However, not all negotiations turn out this way. In fact, sometimes we run into trouble. We reach a sticking point in our discussions that we just don’t seem to have a way around. Both sides see the world differently and it’s not clear how we can reach an agreement. These types of disputes need to be resolved. As negotiators, we need to know what our options for resolving disputes are.

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