Negotiation and Conflict

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Conflict and negotiation often go hand in hand. At times the negotiation can take place first and the conflict eventually surfaces out of a failed negotiation. Other times the conflict leads to negotiation to solve the differences and eradicate the conflict. It is imperative that negotiators have a positive attitude in order to be successful. They can view conflict as natural and constructive. The skills they use to resolve conflict are not “magic.” They can be learned.

Defense Mechanisms Used in the Negotiation Process

There are two ways to view how conflict can arise during a negotiation.

  • A negotiator’s internal state will diametrically affect the communication between the parties at the negotiation table.
  • The interaction that happens at the table will have a direct effect, on the negotiating parties.

A conflict or argument can lead us to become defensive or offensive. This is not unlike the “fight or flight” response we have in our more primal brain. Our response as people is complex. Nevertheless, we all react with a “cause and effect” reaction when faced with a conflict during our business negotiations.

Four Major Reasons Why People Engage in Irrational Behaviour

Several of the most common reasons why negotiators may act in an otherwise unreasonable manner include:

  • Reflecting Blame – This allows an individual to place their own problems or inadequacies on the other person so they avoid altering their own behavior.
  • Habitual Reaction – Many of the reasons an individual may respond in a defensive manner, is a habitual response he has developed from early on in his formative development.
  • Provides a Measure of Excitement – By reacting defensively, the individual allows themselves to change the rules of the game should they be feeling bored, dissatisfied or engaged in internal conflict.
  • To Gain Approval from Others – Acting defensively may also be used to receive moral support from others. To change their attitude might end up in a withdrawal of this support, or a possible loss of self-esteem.

Measures to Change Defensive Posturing to Mutual Problem Solving

Once we comprehend the probable reasons or basis for the deadlock or conflict, we can take steps to eliminate defensive behaviour to find solutions. To do so we must identify the following:

  • Cooperation is Key – We must understand that we cannot impose our own resolution on someone who is in a defensive pose. The other person must become part of the solution by being included, through a cooperative effort by both parties to find a mutual resolution.
  • Two Way Street – For a mutually agreed solution to be found, the other party must be shown, they cannot impose their own proposal to resolve the matter. They too must adopt a measure of mutual cooperation.
  • Both Parties Must Believe – If one or both parties do not possess any hope for a successful resolution, then cooperation is unlikely. Both parties must believe there is hope in resolving the conflict.
  • Trust the Resolution – When a negotiated resolution is accomplished, both parties should abide by the agreement. If there is a lack of trust, the agreement will become shaky or not sustainable.

Understanding their Interests is Vital

A person’s sense of identity, self-esteem, and personal security, are intangibles that are often intrinsically non-negotiable items. To break the defensive stance, we will need to assuage their inner issues and concerns by assuring them that we are keen to attend to their emotional interests. They are then prone to become more agreeable to working along with us.

We can accomplish an understanding of their interests, by active listening while showing that we support and sympathize with the emotional basis for their defensive positioning. This does not imply that we have the same opinion. By taking this attitude we are indicating that we are ready to be open-minded and receptive. Admitting that their defensiveness is worth considering will aid in greatly lessening the antagonism.

Conflict in negotiation may have a psychological basis that isn’t fully exhibited at the negotiation table. There are many reasons why people react defensively, or with some measure of hostility. We have to employ effective communication to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental reason behind this behaviour.


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