Do Negotiators Have To Learn How To Forgive?

Should forgiveness be part of a negotiation?
Should forgiveness be part of a negotiation?
Image Credit: timlewisnm

I think that we can all agree that any negotiation can become fairly emotional at times. There is always the possibility that you may end up doing or saying something that you will later on regret. If this does happen, should you tell the other side that you are sorry? If they do something that offends you, should they tell you that they are sorry? If they do, should you forgive them? For that matter, what role should forgiveness play in any negotiation?

The Power Of Forgiveness

As important as it may be, it’s generally believed that forgiveness isn’t an essential component of negotiation. We may be able to get to the finish line despite resenting or disliking the other side intensely. However, when you’re suffering from a grievance, it can be all too easy for you to get trapped in a cycle of anger, self-pity, and resentment that puts you at risk for further conflict as well as both emotional and physical stress.

The reason that not forgiving someone can be such a big deal is because simply remembering a hurtful experience can trigger a biochemical stress response in you. If you can find a way to move beyond blame then research has shown that this can help you better regulate your emotions and may even lower your blood pressure. What negotiators need to understand is that the health benefits offered by forgiveness can have a transformative impact on conflict.

In one study, people from both sides of a conflict were brought together for a week of forgiveness training. When assessed six months later, the participants’ rating of the intensity of their hurt had declined significantly. Overall, using conflict resolution training has been found to encourage people to experience greater empathy toward their offenders and to change their personal story of victimization to one of overcoming adversity.

Using Forgiveness In A Negotiation

When we are talking about negotiations, the forgiveness inspired by a sincere, well-timed apology can potentially improve the odds of reaching a settlement in the negotiation and could even repair relationships. We need to understand that forgiveness is always achievable or even desirable during a negotiation. In particular, the greater the trauma people have suffered, the less open they will be to reconciliation. Studies suggest that victims must feel a sense of economic and psychological stability before they can summon the strength to forgive those who have harmed them.

But if the prospect of moving on psychologically from a grievance appeals to you, the big question is how can you increase your own capacity to forgive? Your willingness to forgive someone who has hurt you may come down to your beliefs about human nature. Researchers had participants square off against an opponent who repeatedly violated their trust in a computerized negotiation before apologizing. Participants in the study who believed that moral character can change over time were more likely to trust their counterparts following the apology than were participants who believed that moral character is a fixed thing.

These results suggest that you can increase your capacity for forgiveness during a negotiation by allowing for the possibility that a counterpart who expresses a seemingly heartfelt apology is capable of personal growth. This is the kind of decision that we all have make using our own personal view of the negotiations that are currently being conducted.

What All Of This Means For You

During a heated negotiation things can be done or said that can hurt someone who is involved in the negotiation. Although we can try very hard to make sure that a situation like this does not happen, unfortunately it can still occur. As negotiators we need to understand what we need to do in a situation like this. One option that we have available to us is forgiveness. However, do we know how to use it?

It turns out that we don’t actually have to forgive the other side for things that they have said or done. However, if we don’t forgive them then just thinking about what they have done to us can have a negative impact on our well-being. Studies have shown that forgiveness can reduce the amount of hurt that people are feeling. If forgiveness is worked into a negotiation, then the possibility of being able to reach a deal with the other side increases. If you are willing to believe that the other side can really change, then you may be able to forgive them.

In the heat of battle, the thought of actually forgiving the other side for something that they have either said or done may seem like something that you can’t imagine doing. However, perhaps this is a negotiating tool that we should all take a closer look at. If resentment is going to cause us to miss out on an opportunity to reach a deal with the other side, then perhaps forgiveness should become part of our negotiating toolkit.

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

Question For You: If you forgive the other side would you expect them to forgive you?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators we realize that bias is a big deal. We have to work hard to identify what bias we bring to the table. Once we know what they are, we then have to take steps to make sure that they don’t find their way into our negotiating. However, it turns out that there is another side to this coin. The other side may be bringing their own set of bias to the table and that could impede your ability to strike a deal with them. What do you need to do in order to help them deal with their own set of bias?