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Negotiation, negotiation skills

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Human Law Ezine - May 2009

Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional – how to negotiate without falling out

Whether we like it or not we are all going to experience conflict in our lives.

This may be with people we work with, live with or just encounter on a day to day basis. A survey last week claimed Britain is the angriest nation in Europe, which surely can’t help and the current economic situation is only making conflict more likely in the business environment.

The wave of redundancies sweeping across the nation is forcing a number of employers, employees and their advisors such as lawyers and trade unions into conflict situation. As customers become slower and slower at paying added pressure is created for their suppliers and relationships become strained.

But business disagreements don’t have to end in full blown battles. The approach taken by those involved and their attitude in dealing with the conflict will have a significant impact on the outcome and the costs involved in finding a solution.

You can choose to focus on and exacerbate the divide between the parties and engage in combat, often leading to resultant personal stress, court battles and significant legal fees or take a more productive approach to reduce the damage caused by the conflict.

Here are some ideas for keeping a conflict under control, resulting in less cost in terms of time and legal fees.

1 Avoid macho posturing – In an attempt to hide the weakness of their position some people are all bluff and bluster in conflict situations. This tendency can serve to exacerbate the problem. In a situation with two sides both taking an aggressive stance there’s little hope of speedy or successful conflict resolution. When negotiating it’s important to be composed, controlled and focus on the issues. Sticking to the facts and keeping your tone level and neutral can be disarming and having a calming influence on those around you.

Sometimes by being open about our own weaknesses in a negotiation rather than being macho this can make an impact in reducing the hostility of the other side. On occasions the other party may try to take advantage of you but more often than not it will lead to the other side disarming themselves and being more flexible in their approach and getting rid of their aggression.

2 De-personalise problems – My experience of disputes is that often things can happen due to personal issues between the individuals. It can be difficult to take the personalities out of a matter but believe me there are clear benefits. If you can move beyond the personalities involved, then you can go a long way to reaching a solution and dealing with the issues.

There are ways to de-personalise – for example you can ask others to negotiate on your behalf, either a lawyer or mediator, or even another member of staff. But whoever gets involved will need a clear brief on what the issues are and what outcome you are hoping for. Often by going through this process of dissecting the conflict you will remove the hostility in any event.

3 Focus on your own emotions – In many work environments there are unwritten rules that emotions are not to be expressed. Is this really wise? Try to experience your emotions fully but without causing offence. When we experience emotions fully, they relax and release their hold. Over the long term try to analyse your emotions and understand them more clearly. Accept your feelings non judgmentally and see them as sources of information. At its deeper level understand their origin in what can be family patterns and past experiences and understand whether there are any themes which are being repeated.

Recognising and getting to grips with our own emotions (what the text books call Emotional Intelligence) can make us more understanding and tolerant of the emotional behaviour of others. It makes us more able to find solutions in conflict situations because we can focus on the issue not the feelings involved.

4 Listen – Effective communication starts with the speaker taking responsibility for understanding the language, perspective and experiences of the listener.

Effective listening means emptying your mind of all the thoughts competing for your attention including what you are going to say in response – and giving up your ideas about what the speaker should do. If you do this you will have a greater understanding of where the other side is coming from.

When listening fully you will pick up through tone and pitch which points cause them most concern, through the words they use you with understand what the main points at issue are and by actively listening you will demonstrate to the other side that you are willing to consider their perspective. So many battles result from poor communication and it’s so easy to avoid by listening properly.

5 Analyse the Conflict – Research on problem solving indicates that the effectiveness of solutions increases significantly once the real problem is identified.

To analyse the conflict ask probing questions such as what exactly is the conflict about? When did the conflict begin? What caused the conflict? If you ask the right question you will have more chance of getting to the solution.

With the pressures we all face in business at the moment being compounded by fear of redundancy, restructuring and in the more extreme examples administration, it’s a good time to keep combat at bay by handling conflict with a steady, controlled hand.

Justin Patten handles conflict for a living and whilst as a litigation solicitor he is familiar with the combat zone of the court room he much prefers to work with clients to achieve mediated solutions through negotiation and agreement. Contact Justin on 0844 800 3249 or email Justin here.

Further reading:

Negotiating for Excellent Results

Human Law Mediation has just published a new White Paper – Negotiating for Excellent Results – which contains advice and tips on how to negotiate with power and persuasion in conflict situations. You can download a PDF version of the White Paper here or email Justin Patten for a hard copy.

Keeping Away from Court Room Battles and Employment Tribunals

A White Paper with advice on How to save money, maintain business relationships and avoid negative publicity by embracing the power of mediation to resolve business and employee disputes. Download the PDF here.

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Justin Patten
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