How can you avoid a turf battle when you are involved with a group negotiation?

Diverse group sitting in a circle negotiating with each other

In a group negotiation there are a host of interests that need to be addressed. Parties often distrust one another and they are very suspicious of the motives of the other group. This leads to distrust and negative perspectives. This article addresses how groups with differing perspectives can address these types of concerns to negotiate an amicable resolution even when turf battles are involved. Not that this is a panacea that always works, but these ideas work in many situations and should be considered with any difficult group negotiation.

 

The starting perspective

 

We are hard wired to think of the world as right and wrong, black and white, and good and evil.  It is much easier if we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. That is how the military is set when two waring factions go at one another. There can be no room for gray or mercy in an all-out war. This demonizing perspective is often exaggerated by each side towards the other. However, we know that life is far more complex. We also know that within each of us there are common values. If it is possible to find the common values there is a much greater probability to being able to overcome what initially appeared to be insurmountable barriers. Here are three ways to overcome these kinds of barriers and how to look for ways to collaborate with even with the most difficult opponent in a hard-fought difficult negotiation.

 

Look for a mutual benefit

 

Work with your team to determine what your overall goals are associated with the negotiation. Think outside the box. Consider not only the obvious, but brainstorm and consider other elements. For example, short term versus long term impacts; perceptions from vendors, customers, executive leadership, peers, subordinates, and other stakeholders; future contracts; their most significant concerns; and other elements such as quality, delivery dates, responsibilities, and other elements that you may be taking for granted. When you identify your needs with the obvious as well as those that are not so obvious, it may be possible to open the eyes of the other party with this information too.

Once the other party understands your perspective more fully, they are more likely than not to share other concerns from their perspective too. This creates an opportunity to explore mutual interest in other areas. This builds understanding and trust. Often elements that were deemed untouchable earlier in the negotiations may now have an element of flexibility to allow for better negotiations. You don’t know until you try this. What have you got to lose?

 

Sacred cows may not be so sacred

 

Often at the start of group negotiations statements are made or perceptions are presented about which issues are most important, where there is a line in the sand, and which issues indeed are negotiable. Going into a negotiation often there is your side, there is there side, but somewhere in between is the truth. Somewhere between your side’s position and their side’s position is your and their Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Your BATNA indicates that if you do not reach at least this minimum amount you are prepared to walk away from this agreement. Explore your and what you perceive as their BATNA. This technical process can prove very valuable in any negotiation.

Consider multiple positions going into the negotiation

As a good technique it is often very helpful for your team to compute three potential solutions somewhere between your BATNA and your starting position. The activity may come in handy during the negotiations as a tool, but even more importantly it may give you insights into different ways that you may be able to offer alternatives with an unexpected light.

How strong are your and their values?

From the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation an article offers this insight:

In a 2009 study by Ann E. Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame University and her colleagues, for example, pairs of negotiators who had a weak BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, were more likely to reach agreement on a seemingly sacred issue as compared to those with a strong BATNA. When parties lacked power, they felt motivated to compromise on moral principles that they previously found nonnegotiable.

What can be learned from this? This suggests that some of the sacred cows that we thought could not be considered in the negotiations may indeed be considered, at least to some extent. The positions were not carved in stone. Explore your own values and what might you be willing to concede in order to reach an agreement.

 

Increase communications and trust

 

The reason to increase communications and trust is to overcome hostility and de-escalate tensions. How can you do this? Take steps towards making small concessions. See how the other side responds. If the other party provides no response, consider offering other small gestures. Be careful not to negotiate against yourself. These are concessions you can live with given your BATNA and three alternatives that you developed between BATNA and your starting position. Why are you doing this?

  • First, the other side can see that you took the initiative.
  • Second you are presenting an anchor that the other side can look at that is closer to your position than theirs.
  • Third, this invites the other side to offer something back to you. This might very well work to reduce the tension between both groups.

Sometimes taking the first or even multiple small moves can go a long way towards the other side working with you to resolve the issue. Keep an open mind.

Also keep in mind that not all negotiations or negotiators are ethical. If the other side does not want to reciprocate or work with you to resolve the conflict, you need to be prepared to walk away or escalate too.

Keep in mind your and your firm’s values. Do you know what they are? Are they real or simply a statement for public relations because other firms have value statements too? In this situation are you prepared to enforce them? If not, are you prepared to escalate the discussion to a higher level? Sometimes these are not clear. In some situations, you may want to broaden the discussion to higher up in the organization chart to ensure clearer application of the firm’s values.

 

Conclusion

 

Here are three ideas to help you avoid turf battles when you are involved with a group discussion. Keep an open mind and look for areas of mutual benefit. You or they may have sacred cows that at first appear to be locked in stone, but if the right situation arose, they may not be as sacred as initially perceived. Consider making small concessions to start the process moving towards a peaceful resolution. Once started, sometimes the momentum continues rapidly towards an amenable solution. Finally, be prepared to walk away or escalate if you are attempting to partner with an unethical party that truly wants to escalate the situation.

 

About the author

 

Mike is a former IRS executive that oversaw business valuation nationally, research credit for 23 states and who brought mediation to the IRS Field Specialists Program. He is a mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]