What Can Cause A Negotiation To Go Wrong?

Negotiators need to know how to address conflict in a negotiation
Negotiators need to know how to address conflict in a negotiation
Image Credit: patriziasoliani

I’d like to be able to tell you that every negotiation that you participate in will go smoothly. However, as we all know, that’s just not going to happen. Instead, basic elements of conflict contribute to disputes and can cause them to escalate. When this happens, we need to know what to do. It is going to be our job as negotiators to take a look at what is going on and find ways to get the negotiations back on track. How can conflicts be resolved?

Understand The Interests Involved In A Negotiation

In the heat of conflict, it can be difficult for a negotiator to think rationally about how you got where you are and how you might make things better. However, by taking a break to consider the elements of conflict, you can move toward a more rational assessment of the dispute and come up with ways to address it. Conflict is something that we’ll encounter in every negotiation that we are involved in. Although there can be many elements of conflict, the interests of the different parties are where things generally start.

Conflicts often arise when we fail to take the time to carefully think through our own interests. When we allow conflicts escalate, a new interest can emerge: the desire to punish or otherwise harm the other side for perceived wrongdoing. This interest in exacting revenge often arises when we are assuming the worst about the other side and their contribution to the conflict. More specifically, due to what is called the fundamental attribution error, a pervasive human tendency, when things go wrong in our lives we often blame factors outside of our control. However, when things go wrong for others, we tend to blame fundamental aspects of their character. When managing conflict in negotiatons and beyond, if we can acknowledge our own potential contribution to the conflict it can help us focus on our long-term interests and negotiate solutions.

Alternatives Can Help To Cause A Conflict

Our alternatives are another one of the primary elements that cause conflict. Experienced negotiators understand the importance of identifying their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA before negotiations get underway. When we have a strong sense of our BATNA, we will position ourselves to accept no less than we can get elsewhere and this will increase our bargaining power. Parties that are in conflict also need to consider their BATNA – that is, what they will do if they fail to resolve the dispute. Depending on the situation, this may could include ending a relationship, making a formal complaint, or even filing a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, negotiators tend to be overly optimistic about our odds of prevailing in litigation, arbitration, and other high-risk methods of conflict resolution. Sadly, researchers have found that we tend to overestimate the likelihood that a judge or other arbiter will rule in our favor. To avoid falling into this trap, we need to spend at least as much time thinking about the evidence and opinions that the other side would present as we spend thinking about the merits of our own case. When we do, we have a better chance of arriving at a more rational assessment of what happened – and become more willing to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Our Identity Can Lead To A Conflict

All too often conflicts often tap into our deepest sense of our own identity. Because they can lead us to question our essential competence and goodness, such “identity quakes” have the potential to knock us off-balance and worsen a conflict. When the other party feels similarly attacked during a negotiation, we may conclude the relationship is beyond repair. An important step in conflict management is to take the time to explore and acknowledge our identity issues. We need to think through our own vulnerabilities. Some of these may date back to childhood. We need to understand how they may be resonating in the present. Understand that if you often felt overlooked as a child, you may be quick to believe that others are excluding or ignoring you.

Remember that such conclusions could be an oversimplification or misreading of the problem. By considering what our contributions are and forgiving ourselves for any missteps, we can become more capable of listening to the other party’s perspective which is an important step in resolving a conflict.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiations are discussions between different parties as they attempt to find common ground. Not unsurprisingly, there is always the possibility that during the course of a negotiation one or more conflicts are going to appear. As negotiators, we need to realize that this can happen and we need to understand how we can deal with conflicts. Our goal needs to be to find ways that we can work through a conflict and reach a deal that everyone can live with.

We need to understand that the source of a conflict can be different each time we encounter one. One source of conflicts comes from the fact that the interests of the different parties are different. We need to understand what our interests are. We also have to understand that we may be contributing to the conflicts that are blocking our negotiation. Alternatives can also create conflicts. We have to go into a negotiation understanding what our BATNA is. Conflicts can also result based on our sense of identity. We need to understand what our vulnerabilities are.

Conflicts are going to be a part of every negotiation that we participate in. However, it’s how we choose to deal with conflicts that will determine the impact that they will have on our negotiations. Realizing the source of a conflict can help us to find out the best way to resolve it. If we can get good at doing this, then we’ll be able to reach the deal that we are negotiating for.

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

Question For You: When a conflict arises in a negotiation, do you think that you should call for a break?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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.