How do you address the three most common conflicts in business negotiations?

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In business negotiations there are three common conflicts that you want to make sure you are aware of and address appropriately according to the Harvard Program on Negotiation. These three most common conflict areas are introduced and supplemented with additional information to help you with your own business negotiations going forward. The three areas are to avoid stereotyping the other party, take on the most difficult issues first, and check your own assumptions and determine your role. When you know the characteristics of each you will be able to negotiate from a much better position. Your relationship with the other party is critical. By learning everything you can about the other party up front and taking time to develop a relationship this can go a long way to improve the negotiation process.


Do not stereotype the other party


Everyone has bias as a result of previous experiences. Our brain is lazy and likes to reinforce judgements you are making based on those previous experiences. This process is helpful as a defense mechanism, but can cause you to prejudge the other party, their intentions, and how to approach the other party. Take the time up front to learn all you can about the other party before initiating the negotiation if at all possible.

Research them on the internet with Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other sources. Use your network.

Who else could help you with gaining additional information about the other party, their firm, their organization within the firm, and other insights. Using this information look for ways for you to connect with the other party. By finding ways to connect this may help you to avoid your predisposition for stereotyping the other party and give you a way to improve the outcome of your business negotiation.

Avoid giving to much weight to differences in culture or background from a generalization perspective.

Take the time to get to know the other person on a personal level. Expand on this during breaks or by extending deadlines. In the virtual world with multiple iterations, it is common for the parties to reach out to each other between official negotiation sessions and interact on a more personable level.


Discuss difficult issues first


Have you heard the expression to eat the frog first? Knowing nobody wants to eat the frog first, this expression helps you remember to tackle the most difficult issues first. If you can address the most difficult issue first this may allow you to quickly move through other issues that are not as trying now that you were able to address the most difficult issues first.

If the negotiation involves close friends or family historical differences may come into play. If there have been hard feelings previously the process may start from a less than neutral perspective. In this type of situation

take the time up front to develop norms or ground rules that everyone can accept.

For example, can we agree to be honest with each other, allow one person to speak at a time, and take the time to reflect on what was said by the other party said to ensure understanding before initiating your own perspective. This goes a long way to promote listening actively and ensuring understanding. When someone has been listened to, they are far more apt to listen to you. These simple ground rules can go a long way in creating a better working environment.

Of course, for any generalization there are likely to be exceptions. Sometimes agreeing to some of the smaller items up front can help the parties see that they do have some small elements of agreement when they thought they did not have any.

As a mediator, I can attest that

in contentious situations a third party that is neutral can provide considerable value by working with the parties and helping them to diffuse the situation while focusing on the issues.

Finding a mediator that has experience in your area of concern and that understands the various types of mediation can help the parties determine what may work for them in their situation.


Check your own assumptions and determine your role


Does your employer encourage raising conflict issues so that you can address them or does your culture encourage participants not to raise difficult issues? The answer to this question has a major impact on how to proceed.

If you are encouraged to raise issues, do so diplomatically, professionally, and come with ideas to help address the situation.

 If the answer is no be careful. Network with others on if, when, and how to raise an issue.

Timing is important too. Now may not be the time. The decision may have been made and there is no interest in rehashing the situation. Consider whether this is worth it to raise the issue. What about feedback to others?

Instead of giving feedback on a difficult issue you may want to consider feedforward. That is instead of focusing on what went wrong and blame,

focus on what was learned and what can we do together to address these kinds of situations in the future.

 Look for areas to catch others doing things right and reinforce this with appreciation on your part. Appreciation goes a long way towards constructive improvement. Another question to ask yourself is, what is your role.

Depending on the situation you could find yourself in a host of different roles and even at the same time. For example, are you the peacekeeper, referee, bridge builder or healer? By comparison are you a witness or fact finder? Do you find yourself being a teacher in the given situation?

No matter what role you find yourself in, it is important that you be authentic. You have to be honest with yourself.

Do not put yourself in a situation where you do not feel you have the skills for the situation. Yes, you can grow and take on additional challenges on the one hand, but on the other hand do not set yourself up for failure either. Choose the role that works best for you.

For additional information and insight check out this article from the Harvard Program on Negotiation that inspired this commentary. .

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]