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Monday, November 30, 2015

Negotiation: Tactical Conflict Resolution to Strategic Transcendent Eloquence

Managers and leaders can always recognize that they may not always get what they want when working with stakeholders. Whether it is working with external vendors and clients or internal business units and employees, negotiating for the right resources, contractual agreements, time, cost, scope and even risk is omnipresent in today’s business environments. The fundamental reason for negotiation is to agree on a term that allows both parties in the negotiation to perform better or produce something in relatively better terms than in the absence of the negotiation agreement.

Those that have worked on negotiation may very well know the common techniques like issue resolution, democratic dispute resolution, bargaining, and litigation. But, some may relate to the term phrase best alternative to a negotiating agreement (Fisher and Ury, 1981). Depending upon the root cause that led to a disagreement or conflict, the negotiation may have to morph from simple dispute resolution to a transcendent eloquence. For instance, the discussions such as negotiating for an extension to a project or salary negotiations for a new job may involve evaluating the BATNA from the following areas:
  • Opportunity cost of the existing status quo relative to the alternative arrangement
  • Impact of the alternative arrangement on the immediate needs that caused the dispute
  • Timely feasibility of executing the alternate arrangement
  • Risk of the alternative arrangement not providing the promises relative to the status quo
  • Evaluating the risk profile and thresholds of the appropriate stakeholders who can be enablers of the best alternative 
However, when the disagreement is no longer simple and arises due to differences of opinions that are both equally valid and respectable, then the resolution to such disputes may involve strategic negotiation techniques like the transcendent eloquence. This is a technique to foster constructive dialogue evaluating the strategic fit of these incompatible yet morally valid disagreements. Such beyond-the-normal discourses need to philosophical, comparative, dialogic, critical, and transformative, says Pearce and Littlejohn (1997, p.157). While it is generally recommended to apply this technique in extreme scenarios like military negotiations and high corporate decision making involving spin-off, merger, etc., this technique can also be beneficial for middle management to exercise their strategic skills.

The philosophical nature of this approach looks beyond the root cause analysis to evaluating the fundamental belief system that gives raise the conflict. Such a journey can encourage both parties to educate themselves on the paradigm shifts in the industry to think outside the box to raise the bars on performance measures. Similarly, the comparative nature of this approach attempts to resolve differences of opinions arising from incorrect frames of references, such as those in differing geographical cultures or vendor relations where each party may have different operating rhythm in software development. As a result, both the parties may establish common patterns of language that serve as the framework of reference on the roles and responsibilities moving further beyond eliminating conflict to addressing productivity.

The dialogic nature of the transcendent eloquence engages active listening steering towards breaking a new ground by using powerful questions towards exploring the root causes. Both parties are now engaged in not only establishing common ground but collaborate towards alternative generation that neither party could have arrived at working alone. On the contrary, the critical nature of this technique applies the concepts of power and influence each party can exercise in implementing the solution by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the espoused solutions to ensure that the best alternative is not only a strategic fit but also is rooted on operational efficiency promoting changes that also need to be provided to the appropriate managers and leaders in successfully implementing the solution. 

Finally, the transformative nature looks beyond the conflict into applying the alternative agreement and seeing if the costs of winning justifies being in the game. In other words, should we even be engaged in resolving this situation? For instance, if continuous investment for a product losing its market share may be justified to some extent but if the massive adoption of a new technology is acknowledged in the macro-environment, should alternatives to sustain the product be even considered?

Have you applied any of these approaches in addressing your challenge? How do you think you can apply these negotation techniques in addressing your challenge?

Fisher, R. and Ury, W. (1981) William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Books.
Pearce, W.B. and Littlejohn, S.W. (1997). Moral conflict: When social words collide. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications