5 Steps to Negotiating Conflict
Photo: Courtesy of Sharon V. Lovejoy
Conflict negotiation arises in many contexts, both business and personal, but successful negotiation does not just happen. Sharon V. Lovejoy, litigation attorney with Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher, offers these tips to help you negotiate a successful resolution.
1. Improve your understanding of the situation: Preparation is key to the successful resolution of any difficult conflict. A skilled negotiator who knows about the people and the interests involved is better able to influence the decisions of others. Review the issues in advance, consider the options, and know your opponent’s likely interests and motives.
2. Be an active listener: Listening is crucial. Concentrate to listen fully before formulating a response in your mind so you won’t miss important information. Use open-ended questions to clarify your opponent’s points, and recap the important points to show you were listening. Listening actively helps you fully understand the situation, builds trust and helps the other side feel respected.
3. Set a constructive tone and de-escalate tension: Starting a negotiation with a take-it-or-leave-it position, while useful in certain situations, is not always an effective approach. As each side tries to force its position, rising anger makes resolution less likely. Rather, try to make your message consistent with your opponent’s values. Acknowledge and validate the other person’s perspective. Doing so might result in barriers coming down and lead to a collaborative resolution. When tensions rise, ask for a break – it’s not a sign of weakness, but a chance to analyze what is occurring, and will help get communications onto a more productive track.
4. Know your alternatives: When dealing with a particularly difficult conflict, having a good alternative to the negotiation increases your power because you don’t absolutely need the negotiation to succeed. A negotiator with acceptable alternatives is in a better position to make demands, which, under appropriate circumstances, could lead to a favorable result.
5. Turn to a professional negotiator when appropriate: Hiring a lawyer skilled in conflict negotiation, or using a mediator to broker a resolution, can be the best way to resolve some conflicts. Lawyers are trained not only to argue, but to also persuade judges, juries and, at times, their opponents. A mediator is trained to bring divergent interests closer together with the goal of bridging gaps and reaching agreement.
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