Want to know three primary strategies for conflict resolution?

Scrabble words "plan"

As a mediation and negotiation specialist, I deal with conflicts daily. To handle these conflicts effectively, I must consistently maintain a calm, confident, and competent manner. This mental focus and preparation allow you to concentrate on critical issues and create value. However, besides mental focus, it is equally important to remain flexible and to use time to your advantage.

The following discussion delves into these three aspects and offers insights to enhance your performance in your next negotiation, especially when you're up against the other party.


Be mentally prepared


You do not always have time to prepare thoroughly for a tense negotiation. In spur-of-the-moment negotiations, pause if you start to feel anger. Take a deep breath. Note how you are feeling and why. You may need to walk away. This may not be the right time for a negotiation.

On the other hand, you may need to address an unanticipated shock to your system.  If that is the case, make a point to slow down. Take deep breaths. Focus on the problem before you speak, and do not let the emotion take over.

When you know you are going to have a negotiation in an area where there is or may be a conflict,

take the time to prepare yourself mentally.

Mental preparation may include a 20-second meditation on the prayer of St. Francis, writing notes in a private journal to reflect, taking a walk outdoors, going to the pool to swim or to a gym to exercise, or performing yoga. Your natural tendency may have been to fire yourself up for a fight, but your goal as a mediator is to quell these urges. Instead, focus on centering yourself and helping the other party center themselves. Come to any discussion with an attitude to learn and understand. Think of what you can do to build a relationship with the other party. Learn all you can about the other participants. When you can, interject elements to create an authentic, connecting relationship with things you have in common. Focus on listening actively from the time you begin the negotiation process and all through your interactions with the other party.

Preparing yourself mentally, applying your emotional intelligence to remain calm, building a relationship, and listening actively will improve your chances for a successful negotiation. Anticipate being provoked and think ahead about how you will remain calm. Plan how you may respond to a triggering comment, for example, by suggesting a break. Be prepared to potentially spin a negative comment by the other side into an opportunity for both of you. Keep your eye on the prize.


Know what you want to do, but be flexible


The scout’s motto is fundamental here: Be Prepared. Plan. Fortunately, the Harvard Program on Negotiation has prepared an excellent 32-point negotiation preparation checklist. We suggest that you read this list and take appropriate action before entering into a serious negotiation. Not all suggestions may be relevant, but by reviewing the list, you will have considered the key elements of your negotiation.

As a more simplified approach as a mediator, I ask both sides to take one 8 ½ by 11-inch blank paper and write down four broad areas I go over with each side ahead of time.

These four questions are the key.

What are the facts?

What are the issues?

What are the feelings (or the emotions) associated with each issue? (which ones are most important and why?)

What are the interests associated with each issue(s)? (both yours and theirs)

Imagine a billion-dollar-plus financial issue with a dozen subordinate matters. How can this one sheet of paper address everything in such a significant, complicated issue? It cannot. The one sheet of paper forces the participants to determine and decide the most critical issues from their perspective. The single sheet of paper approach works, even when parties have written long legal briefs and have boxes of paper associated with the conflict. If the most prominent issue can be addressed, minor problems will likely be addressed timely. This technique works for both mediation and negotiation.

Sometimes, all that is needed is an apology from one side to help both parties begin to move forward. Once the facts, issues, emotions surrounding the issues, and interests are separately identified, there can be various side benefits.


Consider money, time frames, and perceptions


Often, a negotiation has a central element associated with money. However, there may be a high value with a timely and sincere apology. There may be a reputation that has been harmed or may be harmed because of the negotiation process. There may be a perception of what is fair should the negotiation results be made public to employees, customers, vendors, shareholders, or other stakeholders. There may be longer-term gains to be obtained by sacrificing short-term elements now. Consider the implications not only on this element of the negotiation but also on what other areas between the two parties might be addressed in the future, for example, with another related entity, another division, another market segment, or other related interests. Sometimes, the interest may be associated with some other related party or to help another party because of this negotiation.

As a mediator who historically met face-to-face for an extended period,

I see the advantage of face-to-face negotiations.

On the other hand, attorneys on both sides have informed me that they often see better settlements from virtual mediations or negotiations that I have been associated with.

Bringing the decision-makers, attorneys, and experts to the next virtual session often takes two to three weeks. In the interim, team members talk to each other and strategize. As a result, they have had time to think about their perspective and the other side’s perspective. With the extra time off, they often come better prepared and usually look at the problem and issues differently. Thus, multiple sessions result in better agreements. This is not to promote virtual negotiations over direct face-to-face negotiations but to offer what others have told me they have experienced.  

For additional insights on this topic, see this blog from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, written by Katie Shonk.

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts.

If you need assistance or want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills, check out these links.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com 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]