The Importance of Relationship to a Negotiation or a Mediation

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This past week I was involved in a mediation related to succession planning in a very successful family owned business. I had been recommended for the mediation as a former IRS employee, business valuer with an understanding of business acumen and the ability to carry out the task with complete confidentiality. I sometimes say that I am like a priest. That is an advantage to mediation in that I can complete the mediation with complete confidentiality unless I am aware of any form of sexual, child or elderly abuse. This allows the parties to share things regarding their businesses and personal relationships within the business that have a bearing on addressing their concerns.

I often refer to the business in a family owned business as the other child. The business really is like another child with all the blood sweat and tears that went into making the business what it is today. That is very important and does not want to be lost in the discussion. In this case there was one child in the business with two siblings not tied to the business.  The older generation is getting ready to address succession planning. As with any family business there are personal concerns related to generational differences, trust, and roles of the parties going forward.

In my business before initiating the mediation I meet with the parties ahead of time to ensure that facilitative client-based mediation is the right fit for the parties. If not I explain why not and exit. There is no need to waste each other’s time if they really want to go forward with litigation. However, generally there has been a break down in trust and relationships for various reasons and those need to be addressed. I am not a therapist. There are those that are and those that focus on transformative mediation. That is, if the given issue is not solved, but the relationship is transformed that is all that matters. In my case I am oriented towards facilitating the issue before us through mediation and often the parties are transformed in the process, but transformation is not my primary goal. My primary goal is to address the succession planning issues.

In order to have a good mediation or negotiation I find it is very important to develop a relationship with the parties. As such when I meet with the parties separately for a mediation I explain to them that in order for me to mediate the dispute, I have to gain their trust. I ask them if they would be willing to share with me elements about themselves to help me learn about them and to work on developing trust with me. Clients do this. I work very hard to listen and develop a relationship with the parties. By asking good open ended questions, listening, reframing, summarizing and focusing on interests it is possible to develop a strong commitment from the parties to work towards an acceptable agreement.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review this was brought home. Now think about this with respect to any negotiation or conflict that you may be involved with another party. Rather than demonizing the other party, step back and consider the recommendations here. If you need help, obtain help from an appropriate party that may help you with our situation. As with any situation, defining the problem effectively, developing solutions, determining the impact of solutions and evaluating the impacts will point you in the right direction of what might be appropriate for you. With my background in business and with conflict, this multimillion dollar business was able to address a number of issues with only a few hours of my services. Seek out appropriate resources to help you as needed with your concerns too.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court is an international speaker, that helps organization resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311.