This is how to overcome rivalry, competition, and tribalism in negotiations

Two characters angrily staring at each other as if they are about to fight

In today’s world with deep seated divisions in Washington we don’t have to look far to see nightly news with antagonistic implications as examples of unhealthy competition and rivalries. This situation gives rise to unethical and unhealthy behaviors. This is bad for relationships and business transactions too. So, what should we do when hard ball tactics are applied in negotiations?


A friendly rivalry takes place when both parties play to win, but at the end of the game the players and fans can come together. They each know that they tried their hardest, but in the end one team wins. When we demonstrate good sportsmanship, this contributes to a healthy environment for everyone. We believe in promoting sportsmanship, fair plan and integrity to the game being played.

An unhealthy rivalry takes place when one or both parties take their enthusiasm for their team to an unhealthy level.

For example, some soccer club fans in Europe become violent when hooliganism takes place between gangs of fans looking for a fight. These unhealthy relationships between rivalries is what can take place in other arenas as well. They may not be physical, but the psychological elements can be just as strong. The key in business is not let the relationship deteriorate to such a level. If we do, this can be very detrimental to all involved.                  

Neuroscience implications

Rivalries may not resort to physical confrontation in negotiations. However,

sometimes when adrenalin and other chemicals and hormones are released the emotional impact can be very detrimental.

For example, when the amygdala (reptilian brain) kicks in and floods the blood stream, we can become very angry. On the other hand, with practice the prefrontal cortex can override the amygdala and keep us from becoming angry. This takes practice. Normally, we do maintain our cool at work. Losing one’s cool at work can be very detrimental. We know that, so in most instances at work we may be fuming inside when we are angry, but we maintain our composure in the work environment.

What can we do?

For starters we can realize that we are naturally predisposed to view the world as binary, that is right and wrong. Of course, we think we are right. We also often believe the other side is wrong.

One of the first things is to realize is that the world is made up many shades of gray.

What we can do is go into the negotiation concentrating that no matter what happens we will not let ourselves become angry. This is easy to state in theory, but hard in practice and it takes practice.

Sides of an issue

Think of a coin. How many sides are there to a coin? Two? Three? There are three. These are the heads, tails and side of the coin. Similarly, in a negotiation there is my side, your side and the truth.

What we have to do is help all sides work towards focusing on the truth.

The key is to have both sides stop demonizing the other side and instead focus on the problem. The goal needs to be to address the issues realizing there are underlying facts, emotions and interests associated with each issue.


Sometimes we encourage fierce competition without even realizing we are contributing to the problem. How can that be?

Ask yourself what are you promoting and what are you reinforcing?

This may be with business matrix expectations, bonuses, promotions, and incentives. This may be indirect with respect to providing better assignments, better working conditions, being accepted into certain social circles or in other indirect ways. You know your culture and you understand the unwritten and as well as the written rules.

Appreciation or the lack thereof

How are you appreciating others and how are you appreciated?

Appreciation is the operative word. Not with financial rewards, but with praise, encouragement and recognition. Every organization has a its own culture. The way this may be addressed in your culture may be different. Once you understand the unwritten rules you will understand the implications of appreciation or lack of appreciation. Each has an impact on behavior. Employees are always watching and wanting to understand expectations. They react accordingly.

Avoid promoting fierce competition

Talk about this ahead of time. Discuss what is involved and why. We need to take ourselves seriously, but not to seriously. Sometimes it can help to laugh once in a while.

Help each other to not become overly zealous.

If one member of the team begins to overreact work as a team to de-escalate the situation. Often times members of one team can help an overzealous member of the team to avoid becoming angry with a comment of encouragement, a different focus, a comical remark or another form of diversion. Team members can help other team members remain calm.


It is necessary to overcome negative emotions.

This 10 step guide to de-escalate many situations can be very handy.

It suggests in part:


If a party is in conflict you:

Must be in control of yourself.

Need to ensure your physical stance contributes to the de-escalation.

Need to consider using the tips offered here to further enhance de-escalation

Find the opportunity

So much has to do with our attitude. Rather than looking at the competition as rival, look at the other side as an opportunity.

What can you do to connect with them? Actively listen to what they have to say.

Paraphrase, summarize, ask open ended questions and empathize. Say it better than they told it to you. Make sure they know you were listening and understand. Once they have been understood they are more likely to listen to you. We tend to reciprocate with how we have been treated. Reciprocate with understanding and empathy.

Educate and negotiate

Now is the time to educate them as you would with a judge. You are not there to sell the judge. If you do that, the judge is likely to see you as an advocate for your position or that of the client. Rather,

reach out to the other side as you would if you were an expert witness in court before the judge.

Be there to help the other party make a good decision. Work off of the common interests you uncovered earlier while you connected and actively listened.

Maintain high standards

Remain ethical. Take the high road. Don’t we aloof and act superior. Rather, remain calm. Focus on the problem. Explore alternatives jointly.

Determine the impacts of the alternatives economically, socially and environmentally. Evaluate the impacts the same way. Select a tentative solution and if necessary, test it. This gives both sides the chance to save face and potentially even improve the recommendation. Finally, implement a final solution or if necessary, back up to an earlier step in this process.

The use of objective data

Along the way, emotions are key.

As much as possible rely on standard and empirical data.

What does the data imply? Follow the data where ever possible. Be open to discussions on the implications of the data. Remember figures don’t lie, but liars’ figure. Beware of manipulations and don’t fall victim to the comments above and fall below the line. Take the high road.

About the author

Mike Gregory is an expert on conflict resolution business to government (IRS), business to business, and within businesses. Mike is an international speaker and he has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions. Mike may be contacted directly at and at (651) 633-5311. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

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]