[SiH] Feature Article: The Art of Negotiation

Success in Harmony

July 2005 – Vol. II, Issue 6


Feature Article: The Art of Negotiation

In last month’s article (see archived issue), I addressed the concept of character. According to Alan Alda and Socrates, the essence of character can be encapsulated in two things: “what does the person want?” and “what does the person do to get it?” As I discussed this concept further with clients and colleagues, it became clear that these two questions are also important to be aware of when working out challenges and problems with other people and negotiating a desired outcome.

The Obstacle of Conflict Avoidance

In our lives, we often face conflict. Simply put, conflict is a difference between you and others. Because we have placed a negative connotation on the word “conflict,” and fear the potential negative outcomes of conflict, we tend to avoid addressing differences with other people. However, conflict in itself is neither inherently positive nor negative. It is how we deal with conflict that brings about either positive or negative outcomes. So it’s sometimes difficult to get past the fact that conflict, when dealt with badly, can lead to isolation, frustration, bad feelings, and fracturing of relationships.

Yet consider the potential positive outcomes of conflict. When we have differences with other people, those differences can actually build trust and solidarity between us. We can complement each other’s strengths. We can come to a better and more complete solution or course of action because we see things differently. We can build on each other’s ideas and find more creative solutions that neither of us could have thought of alone.

Negotiating Through Conflict

This is where negotiation comes in. Solving a problem or settling a matter in a way that works for both of us can be challenging, but is much more effective and builds a collaborative relationship much more readily than coercion or manipulation.

In order to come to a desired outcome that is mutually beneficial, we must first understand each other. Specifically, we need to understand what the other person wants and needs, the stake they have in the outcome of the conversation, and the desired results that they have from the negotiation. Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, a book by Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project, suggests many times that it’s important to set aside positions in the negotiation and to focus on interests. The book Crucial Conversations says the same thing. Essentially, if you find yourselves butting heads on strategy, it’s important to come back to purpose

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