How To Use Conflict Management and Principled Negotiation

Selfishness is a very human trait. We look to getting the best for ourselves without being concerned or even ignoring other people’s interests. “To each his own” means conflict is inevitable in life, work or play. One of the methods used in resolving conflicts is negotiation, i.e. a situation in which all the concerned players sit down to bargain and compromise with each other, in order to get the maximum benefits for themselves.

The problem with negotiation per se, is that while it eventually results in an agreement, in a majority of instances, it is at the cost of compromising some requirements. In order to ensure that any final agreement reached is positive and in the best interests of everyone involved, ‘principled negotiation’ is considered as the best solution for conflict management. What is principled negotiation and how does it help in resolving workplace conflicts? Let’s find out…

Origins of ‘principled negotiation’
Roger Fisher and William Ury wrote a book titled “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In”, which was published in 1983. Essentially, the book dealt with the problems of general negotiation as described in the previous section and established four basic principles for negotiation; thus bringing to life, the concept of ‘principled negotiation’. The concept gained wide acclaim and popularity and is considered to be the most effective and ethical method for resolving conflicts, not only in the workplace, but also in everyday life.

Elements of principled negotiation
Fisher and Ury’s four elements that constitute principled negotiation are enumerated below:

  1. Separate ‘people’ from the ‘conflict’; i.e. remove personal equations or ‘ego’ issues from the problem(s) at hand;
  2. Concentrate on ‘interests’, not ‘positions’, i.e. find common ground or benefits between the negotiating parties;
  3. Look for ‘solutions’ that are mutually beneficial, i.e. balanced agreements advantageous to all parties; and
  4. Use only ‘objective criteria’ to finalize an agreement.

These four elements of principled negotiation are not applied in isolation or in a particular sequence. Instead, each element should be used in simultaneous conjunction with the remaining three elements.

Resolving workplace issues with principled negotiation
Here are some useful guidelines on using principled negotiation to resolve workplace issues:

  • Remove ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘your’ from the discussion. When personalities or egos are involved in negotiation, the intensity of conflict increases, bringing in hostilities and destroying not only the chances for successful agreements, but also having a lasting negative impact on relationships.
  • Avoid perceptions, emotions and miscommunication during the negotiation.
  • Discussions must never be ‘one-sided’, allow the other parties involved to present their opinions and viewpoints, without ridicule or censure.
  • Define the conflict in terms of the end-goals or interests of each party, i.e. what does each side hope to achieve at the end of the negotiation, not the present position or stance held.
  • Explore all possible options which will resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. Identify the core issues responsible for the conflict and spend as much time as possible in looking at different solutions and their merits and demerits carefully. Do not dismiss a solution just because it is too simple or too easy or vice versa.
  • Always keep an open mind and avoid using threats or coercion or graft. This is true especially when the conflict involves employers and employees.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that positions and relationships tend to evolve and change over time. Being ethical and responsible while looking at the ‘big picture’ is the optimal approach to resolving workplace conflicts, and this is where principled negotiation is most useful.


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