Negotiating to manage Conflicts

We each must deal with conflict in our personal lives and organizational activities. Conflict involves a disagreement about the allocation of scarce resources or a clash of goals, statuses, values, perceptions or personalities. Much of the conflict we experience arises from our communication of our wants needs and values to others. Sometimes we communicate clearly, but others have differing needs. Sometimes we communicate poorly, and conflict emerges because others misunderstand us. Managers can of course, use dominance and suppression in handling conflicts with employees. But negotiation can help us manage conflicts of all types in a more effective and mutually satisfying way. Negotiation is a process by which two parties interact, through various communications channels, to resolve a conflict jointly.

Negotiation is a very important communication process. It is part of every manager’s job – as an interpersonal role, per Mintzberg’s categories. Negotiations are perhaps most visible in the context of labor management relations. Later in this article we cite a number of examples taken from the context of labor management relations in the United States today.

Daily life offers countless examples of negotiation. We negotiate with a car dealer to buy a car. We negotiate with friends about which recreational activities to pursue. We negotiate with our boss about working hours and conditions. Top ranking managers negotiate with Wall Street analysts over earnings expectations, with union leaders over contract provisions with environmentalists over the “best” way to prevent or clean up pollution and with employees over particular work assignments. All these “negotiation situations” are defined by three characteristics.

1. There is a conflict of interest between two or more parties; that is, what one wants is not necessarily what the other one wants.
2. Either there is no fixed or established set of rules or procedures for resolving the conflict, or the parties prefer to work outside of a set of rules and procedures to invent their own solution to the conflict.
3. The parties, at least for the moment, prefer to search for agreement rather than to fight openly to have one side capitulate, to break off contact permanently or to take their dispute to a higher authority for resolution.

Many factors are important to successful negotiating as shown. The actual negotiation process – the series of offers and counteroffers that we think of as the heart of the negotiation depends on: (1) whether the parties see their interest as depending on each other (regardless of whether they actually do or not); (2) the extent of trust or distrust between the parties; (3) each party’s ability to communicate clearly and to persuade or coerce the other party to accept its point of view; (4) the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the actual people involved; and (5) the goals and interests of the parties.

Negotiation is a complex communication process, all the more so when one round of negotiations is just an episode in a longer term relationship. Such is often the case in labor management relations. Preparation is a key concern for the negotiator. That preparation should include a review of the history of previous negotiating sessions and pervious negotiated outcomes. The negotiator risks a great deal if he or she acts as if history is unimportant to the other party. This entanglement of relationships and time in the negotiating process is clear in the guidelines offered by Reed Richardson for conducting negotiations.

Not too, how often the value of planning is implied in the list of guidelines. Organizational strategies and functional plans serve as standards and thresholds that set limits on what a negotiator should and should not do.

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