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Soft Skills: Conflicts, Problem Solving and Negotiation

What is Negotiation and Conflict Management?

Parties often approach to negotiation and conflict management from different perspectives, this can lead to common negotiation mistakes and disappointing outcomes. To enhance negotiation and conflict management skills, it’s important to acknowledge that differences in perceived conflict may be likely. Similarly, actions and statements aimed at conveying harshness can backfire, starting a spiral of conflict that is difficult to contain. If that happens, recognize that your adversary’s provocations could be intended to inspire steps in conflict resolution. Try to soften your position and look for solutions using novel negotiation and conflict management techniques.

What negotiation and conflict management strategies can help you work through a crisis with your counterpart?

Feel the Other Side’s Pain

It’s a simple fact: in negotiation, your problem is likely the other side’s problem, and vice versa. This knowledge can help improve your negotiation and conflict management skills.

Reframe the Problem

When engaged in conflict negotiation, we tend to focus on potential losses as compared with the expectations we had when the original deal was signed. But when negotiations are framed in terms of losses, conflict management strategies often fail. To overcome this trap, think in terms of the realities of the new status quo, not what used to be. When parties begin to look at the problem this way, they become capable of viewing any deal that avoids the worst possible outcome as a gain for both parties— a mindset that is likely to lead to greater cooperation and creativity.

Recognize that all of us have biased fairness perceptions. 

Both parties to a conflict typically think they’re right (and the other side is wrong) because they quite literally can’t get out of their own heads. Our sense of what would constitute a fair conflict resolution is biased by egocentrism, or the tendency to have difficulty seeing a situation from another person’s perspective. When embroiled in a conflict, we need to try to overcome our self-centered fairness perceptions. We can also do this by jointly hiring a mediator who can help us see one another’s point of view, or another type of unbiased expert, to offer their view of the “facts.”

Avoid escalating tensions with threats and provocative moves

When we feel we’re being ignored or steamrolled, we often try to capture the other party’s attention by making a threat. There’s a time and place for litigation, but threats and other attention-getting moves, such as take-it-or-leave-it offers, are often a mistake, people tend to respond to threats in kind, leading to an escalatory spiral and worsening conflict. Before making a threat, be sure you have exhausted all other options for managing conflict.

Overcome an “us versus them” mentality

Group connections build loyalty and strong relationships, but they can also promote suspicion and hostility toward members of out-groups. As a result, groups in conflict tend to have an inaccurate understanding of each other’s views and to see the other’s positions as more extreme than they actually are. Whether dealing with conflict as a group or on your own, you can overcome the tendency to demonize the other side by looking for an identity or goal you share. The more points of connection you can identify, the more collaborative and productive your conflict resolution process is likely to be.

Look beneath the surface to identify deeper issues.

Our deepest disputes often seem to involve money: labor disputes over employee wages, family conflicts over assets, for example. Take time to explore each other’s deeper concerns. Listen closely to one another’s grievances, and try to come up with creative ways to address them. This conflict management strategy is likely to strengthen the relationship and add new interests to the table, expanding the pie of value to be divided in the process.

Separate sacred from pseudo-sacred issues. 

Conflict management can be particularly intractable when core values that negotiators believe are sacred, or nonnegotiable, are involved, such as their family bonds, religious beliefs, political views, or personal moral code. We tend to err on the side of not negotiating when sacred principles and values are at stake. So it’s important to thoroughly analyze the benefits you might expect from a negotiation that could allow you to honor your principles.

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