When Core Values Are Involved – Negotiations May Be More Difficult

A scale weighing people versus money

When we are in conflict with others we should not focus on beliefs. Rather we should focus on values and look for common values if we truly want to try and overcome conflict. This is the key when we are in conflict with someone else in a negotiation. That is the focus of this commentary.

When we involve our personal values, we indeed do take things personally.

This goes to the core of who we are. This strikes a nerve. We view this as an ethical and moral value. This may be political or religious in nature. The first step is to determine how serious is our and their perspective relative to the value being threatened. The bottom line is that values matter in negotiations.

Determine how sacred is the value

Some parties may truly believe their value is sacred. Others may have a very strong opinion, but they may be receptive to other’s ideas.

Most people may claim to certain values to be sacred. When push comes to shove, they may be able to rationalize away a lot of things for various reasons.

Power matters. When the other side has more power, we may be more inclined to let our values slip and work toward compromise because “what else could we do?”. When our backs are against the wall and we have run out of other alternatives, the only alternative may be to go with what the other party is offering.

Intent versus reality

Sometimes it is possible to rationalize maintaining the spirit of the value, while compromising in the negotiation.

 It may be possible to have a statement in the final agreement that clarifies the intention of the agreement. However, some of the particulars in the final negotiated agreement may not fully endorse the intent.

It may be possible to honor someone else’s values to bring you closer to an agreement. The key is listening to understand, then sometimes not stating underlying sacred values so that you can work towards an agreement. Think creatively. Think outside of the box. Consider other ways to address the situation while honoring the other sides values.

Build value into negotiations

It is possible to explore values and then build value into a negotiation by capitalizing on differences, asking questions and sharing information, and negotiating multiple issues at the same time. Focusing on our values, their values and building value into the negotiation can go a long way towards overcoming conflict.

I like this example from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation where two siblings are arguing about whether to sell one of the possessions of their late parents.

In the end they agreed to sell the item and donate the proceeds to a charity their parents supported as a way “to honor their parents values even more than keeping their belongings.” This is an example of a creative solution and allowing the siblings to sell the possession.

Consider offering one of your core values

If we are asked to forgo one of our sacred values, we are likely to be offended. However,

if we are willing to offer up one of our core values, that can go a long way towards the other side being willing to at least consider offering up one of their core values.

This can demonstrate how serious your side is to work towards an agreement. It could potentially inspire the other side to step back and take a serious look at their core values.

An extreme request followed by a moderate request

When presented with an extreme request that hits at the heart of our core values, this may make us more receptive to a more moderate alternative as a next step in a negotiation.

However, it is cautioned that if there is an intention to do work with the other party in the future, this technique could backfire resulting in negative consequences down the line.

You certainly do not want to insult the other party.

An example with a twist

Once in a mediation between two parties where each had demonized the other party, and the attorneys and expert witnesses were fueling this animosity towards each other, the situation was intense. I was mediating the dispute by shuffling between the parties in this case, when something unusual happened. The ultimate client of one of the parties, made a statement at one point something like, “they have no idea how much work went into developing this industry that did not exist before I invented it.” He indicated he would spend considerable resources to fight the other side in court. The attorneys and experts urged him on. After all they were also getting paid by the hour and extending things would be economically beneficial to them

The twist

That statement got me to thinking. I went to the other side and I asked them what they thought about the inventor and what he had done to build this industry. The industry had not existed before his invention and now was a multibillion-dollar industry with the inventor’s firm being the market maker. The other side paused and used words and phrases like:

He is a real innovator, creative, entrepreneur, determined, passionate, persistent, tireless, driven, ingenious, etc.

Having heard their comments, I brought this commentary back to the other side and shared it with them. This allowed the inventor and ultimate client to step back from his position and see the other side as something other than the devil incarnate.

By asking one side to list positive attributes of the other, and then sharing it with the other side this went a long way towards humanizing the other side in the eyes of the one side.

This changed the entire nature of the mediation for the better and eventually resolution was determined by the parties.

The impact of listing positive qualities

Sometimes asking one side to list a series (say five) positive qualities of the other side will allow one or both sides to move off of an entrenched position. By thinking their own side has the moral high ground and the other side has no moral high ground this may result in a very negative view of the other side.

Once one side begins to see the other side as being human with attributes or values that are positive in nature, it may be possible to move towards an agreement and listen to underlying interest and values in a new light.


By realizing that we are all human with basic core values it may be possible to work towards an agreement.

Vietnam war example

When stepping back from the Vietnam war and realizing where the United States is with Vietnam today a lot has happened in over 40 years. The was between communism and freedom from the standpoint of the Americans. The war was between self determination and eradicating a foreign power from the standpoint of the North Vietnamese.

Today both countries look at each other as friends with common interests related to trade and national defense.

This is an example of how mortal enemies can find ways to work with each other even in very difficult situations.  Sometimes it just takes time.

The author

Mike Gregory is an expert on conflict resolution and team building, facilitating teams through transition. He focuses on conflict resolution business to business, business to government (IRS)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 mg@mikegreg.com 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 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]