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Volume 8 | Issue 4

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Inside the Conflict Resolution Process

When two parties find themselves in a conflict that escalated beyond the original disagreement, resolving the conflict still requires that the parties communicate with each other either directly or through a third party. In many of these situations, the parties are the authors of the dilemma they now face, and the outcome is too often predictable:

  • The conflict escalated
  • Each side blames the other
  • The dispute has become intractable and may end up in litigation
  • Relationships may be forever damaged

How do they frame the conversation and create alternatives? Reaching an agreement requires that their discussion be carried out through mutual dialogue where the parties understand the process they are using.

In a recent mediation, the negotiation was derailed over the use of the word bargaining. One party said that “he came here to negotiate – not bargain.”

We often hear the words bargaining and negotiating used interchangeably, and in most ordinary everyday situations, it’s acceptable to use either term. Yet, at times it’s also essential to understand what’s different about these two words.

For example, most of us are familiar with the typical haggling over the price of something at a yard sale or “flea market.” These highly competitive exchanges are what people know as bargaining. In some areas of the country where real estate prices are volatile, bargaining is inevitable. While not always the case, in these situations, it’s all about who gets the best deal; a classic win-lose environment.

I must note before going further that bargaining successfully is more complicated than many realize because the ability to negotiate is an element that can and does come into play during the bargaining process. It does not change the typical win-lose nature of the process, but it indicates several nuances that many miss when they engage others in the pursuit of a bargain.

Those of us who do this every day understand this type of bargaining is called Distributive Bargaining. This type of bargaining occurs when two more people seek to divide up a fixed amount of resources – the classic win-lose scenario. Its most identifying feature is its zero-sum approach to the interaction.

Each party bargains aggressively and treats the other as an opponent to be defeated. The core of distributive bargaining is that each party has a target point and a resistance point. The two party’s target points are most likely opposite to each other to a significant degree. Their mutual resistance points are the minimum results acceptable by each of the parties.

The difference between these two points is viewed as the aspiration range. As long as there is some overlap between the aspiration ranges, there exists a settlement range in which each party’s aspirations are possible.

When engaged in distributive bargaining, each party’s tactics focus on getting their opponent to agree on a specific target point or get as close to it as possible. It’s to get their opponent to feel emotionally generous toward them and thus accept an outcome close to their target point.

In this environment, every negotiator focuses on meeting their interests, regardless of the loss the others may have to face. High emotion and high energy typify this type of bargaining.  Each party knows the item desired is limited in number, the desired outcomes are opposed by the other party, and there is only a limited amount of time.

Distributive bargaining often leaves one party ‘a loser.’  It tends to build animosities in a business context and potentially deepens divisions between people who have to work together. Because of this possibility, this type of bargaining does not work when dealing with conflict.

In Integrative Bargaining, which is similar to a negotiation, the parties seek to establish a win-win solution. All things being equal, the Integrative Bargaining approach is preferable to Distributive Bargaining in that it builds long-term relationships and facilitates an enhanced working environment.

All of us negotiate, and we do it almost every day and across a wide range of issues. I have several books on negotiating, and all of them make the same point in one manner or another. Negotiations occur for two reasons. One is to gain or create something new that one party cannot accomplish on his or her own, and the other is to resolve a conflict.

Bargaining Strategies in Conflict Resolution

Bargaining is a process of reaching a mutually acceptable solution among all parties to the conflict at the end of the process. Bargaining strategies help resolve the dispute through proper communication and understanding of the situation.  Bargaining is a joint process of finding a mutually acceptable solution to a complex conflict.

When done correctly, which is often not the case, the parties engaged in this technique enter a type of collaboration where the parties, nominally, act in concert to achieve a mutually desirable outcome.

In the context of conflict resolution, the goal is a settlement agreement the parties can mutually accept. Conflict resolution conducted mainly through a bargaining framework often results in narrower, less effective outcomes; due primarily to the ‘bluffing’ tactics and win/lose mindset. The goal in business disputes is to either sever a relationship cleanly or construct a path forward. Buying or selling a scarce resource is not identical to the processes needed to solve complex business disputes.

While elements with bargaining and negotiation may be similar, the parties in conflict are better served building a settlement agreement through the negotiation process.

Faithful readers of my letters know that my team and I subscribe to the notion that the best solution, in any dispute, is for those most directly involved in the disagreement to craft an alternative set of answers the parties find mutually acceptable.

Even though we commonly think of negotiation outcomes in one-shot economic terms (negotiating over the price of a car), crafting solutions to disputes within organizations also affects the relationship between the negotiators and how the negotiators feel about themselves.

In today’s loosely structured organizations, members often work with colleagues over whom they have no direct authority and with whom they may not even share the same boss. In this environment, negotiation skills become critical.

Depending on how much the parties will interact with one another over time, sometimes maintaining the social relationship, and behaving ethically, is just as important as achieving an immediate outcome through negotiating.

In this context, negotiation becomes any form of direct or indirect communication whereby parties who have opposing interests discuss any joint action they might take to manage and ultimately resolve a dispute between themselves. It becomes a dialogue between two or more people or parties intent on reaching a mutually beneficial outcome over one or more conflict issues.

The purpose of conflict negotiation is to reach an agreement that results in mutually agreed outcomes. Each party works towards an understanding that serves both its own and the other party’s interests.

I leave you with these three simple strategies to start you on a successful conflict resolution journey. A peaceful end to conflicts is more likely when following these proven conflict resolution strategies.

1. Avoid being provoked into an emotional response.

As I’ve noted in other articles and letters, power is never equal when the parties sit down to Negotiation. A party may make several “moves” to question the other’s legitimacy and thereby assert his or her power. This “shadow negotiation,” which takes place under the surface, helps to explain why discussions of concrete, seemingly rational issues can lead to angry outbursts, hurt feelings, and simmering conflict.

2. Look for ways to create value.

Find the same set of value-creation opportunities in disputes as you do in deals. For example, try to capitalize on shared interests or noncompetitive similarities. Reaching agreement on seemingly peripheral issues can help parties build a foundation of trust and optimism that enables them to collaborate in resolving the primary sources of their conflict.

3. Use the time to your advantage.

The perceptions we hold about the dispute resolution process may change over time due to experiences dealing with other elements of the conflict and with the other party. Rather than viewing a dispute as permanently intractable, they view it as being constantly in flux.

When you choose negotiation over bargaining and employ these guidelines during the process, you are far more likely to have a successful, long-lasting, and amicable conflict resolution experience.

Food for Thought: Those who fail in a negotiation are those who do not pause before they speak, and those who bite their tongue when they should speak – (Jerry Cooper)

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