Whenever possible, collaboration is the best approach. It has the greatest chance of satisfying each party and, therefore, the greatest chance of maintaining the agreements that you reached. The research has produced a form of conflict resolution that is rooted in collaboration and has become known as principled negotiation.
Principled Negotiation means that conflicts are resolved on the merits of the issues involved rather than through haggling, trickery or posturing. Principled negotiation has also been described as hard on the merits, but soft on the people. In a true principled negotiation, each side walks away with its legitimate concerns met and improved relationships between the parties.
Principled Negotiations involve six (6) principles that are discussed below:
- Separating people from issues – Never forget that the other persons have emotions, values, different backgrounds, and different viewpoints. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. If you try to resolve a conflict by attacking the person and not the problem, you may win the battle but lose the war. If the other party loses face, you risk losing their cooperation, retaining them as an ally in future disputes with others or encourage their revenge.
- Focus on interests, not positions – This principle will prevent either side from painting themselves into a corner. The more you clarify and defend your position, the more committed you become to it and your ego becomes identified with your position, and you now have to save face. This reduces the odds of resolving a conflict in a manner that will maximize gains and minimize costs. Rather than taking a position at the onset you should state your interests, giving both you and your adversary the opportunity to choose from one of many starting positions.
- Use objective standards of fairness – This is important because we are not always going to get our way in life. None of us can win every battle. When we do lose, however, it is easier to accept if we see justice in the determination of the outcome. We also win more battles when we can show our opponent that the outcome we desire meets some criterion of fairness. A fair standard will vary with every situation. Some options are: Market value; Precedent; Scientific judgment; Professional standards; Efficiency; Costs; Court decisions; Moral standards; Equal treatment; Tradition; Reciprocity; Expert opinion.
- Develop some alternatives – Even in a collaborative environment, alternatives are important because we can’t always settle a dispute in a way that meets the interests of all parties. In such cases, we can keep conflict to a minimum if we have a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). The degree to which each party is knowledgeable is important because knowledge is power. The more of it you bring to bear on a conflict the more likely you are to find a solution that is satisfying to everyone.
- Willingness to communicate – This requires taking the time to empathize with the other party. Of course, this is easier said than done. But there are some techniques that may be helpful. Don’t be reluctant to interrupt if you don’t understand and you want a point repeated. Don’t interrupt merely to jump to a conclusion. If you have a tendency to interrupt, try holding a breath for 3 seconds, then holding it for another 3 seconds, before exhaling. This technique will help you gain more control over your interrupting tendencies, and give you more control over what you say and how you say it.
- Resist theatrics – Avoid loaded questions that make value judgments or assume too much. Keep the person talking by smiling and interject periodic acknowledgement of their points. Don’t focus just on words but consider the emotions with which the words are spoken. Whatever you say, expect the other side to hear something different. Take the time to restate what you understand and ask for clarification if you have not correctly understood the other party’s point.
Successful and effective team leaders must learn to determine how much of a particular conflict is due to structural causes and how much is due to interpersonal differences. Structural conflict is rooted in the very nature of organizations and is heightened by scarce resources. Interpersonal conflict is rooted in personality differences. Because much of our personality is shaped by biology and the social groups to which we belong, interpersonal conflict is magnified by biological and social differences-for example, differences in race, sex, national origin, age, income, marital status, region, and physical disability.
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