Preparing for Any Negotiation

Negotiation plays an important part in interpersonal relationships. When people are in conflict, finding the way out of anger and into peaceful resolution is a process of negotiation. As a mediator, I serve as a neutral party and bring my understanding of the elements of negotiation to help individuals and groups resolve disagreement. Through mediation, I help people to uncover their individual and common interests and to find creative solutions they all can live with.

Part of why negotiation is anxiety producing is because people typically don’t know that they should prepare and how to get ready. Taking the time before hand to examine the interests, alternatives and options of yourself as well as the other parties involved will allow you to get to a better resolution and to feel better about the outcome.

Before any negotiation consider these elements.

Interests

What are you and the other side trying to achieve through this negotiation and why? What needs are each of you trying to meet?

For example, a business owner hiring a new employee, beyond the need to increase productivity in your company, might be seeking to increase competence in a particular skill area, credibility, greater profitability, or deeper connection with your customer base. A prospective employee applying for a new job is likely seeking economic security yet may also have a need for flexibility, challenge, creativity, participation, self-respect, or connection with a like-minded community. If each party examines their own interests and discovers where they overlap with the others, agreement can be reached more easily and the agreements will have greater durability.

Alternatives

Alternatives are the choices that are away from the negotiating table.

For an employer, alternatives to hiring a particular employee might be hiring a different applicant, taking no action at this time, re-opening the search, or closing the search to shift responsibility to other departments. Alternatives for the job seeker include finding employment at another company or launching one, continuing the job search, going back to school for an advanced degree, or creating a different relationship with the employer such as consulting, contracting, partnership or franchising.

Options

Options are ideas and strategies that are put on the table that might meet the needs of both parties.

Options for a company and prospective employee might be a combination of salary and commission, company day care, flexible hours, company profit sharing, training programs, a path to promotion and growth or myriad others that provide both sides with satisfaction.

Consultation and Mediation

As a negotiation consultant and mediator, I help people prepare for negotiations by uncovering and exploring their interests, increasing their alternatives and exploring innovative options for resolution. I always offer a free initial session to begin the process to see if consulting or mediation is appropriate for your situation.

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Case Study: Partnership in Peril

Friends since law school, Ben and Jonathan achieved individual success before founding their own firm. Ben had been an associate in one of the large, downtown law offices where he developed an expertise in bankruptcy law, while Jonathan worked at another large firm focusing on patent law. It was six years ago when, each married and with growing families, Ben and Jonathan brought their expertise together and launched their company.

After an enthusiastic beginning, their partnership, now seven years old, is threatened by simmering bitterness.

Ben’s Story

Jonathan isn’t devoting enough time to make this business work. He typically strolls in the office at 9:30 and most summer nights he’s running out the door at 5:00. We used to meet at least twice a week over lunch when we first began the company. We’d talk over our dreams for the firm and would hash out business development strategies. Now he’s off on lunch meetings nearly every day, which means even more time out of the office. It makes my blood boil that he’s slacking off and I’m carrying this business myself.

Jonathan’s Story

The whole reason we launched this partnership is so that we’d be our own bosses. Right now, I feel like I’m working for Ben. He’s only happy if I’m at my desk every second of every day, always poised for his next demand. He’s always got a pile of grunt work for me to do. I’ve got a life outside of work and I’m not going to be bullied by him.

Investigation

In a joint meeting with Ben and Jonathan we uncovered each of their perspectives in better detail. Ben shared how he feels overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks of running the business. He misses the spirit of collaboration that marked the first years of their business partnership. As the sole income earner for his family Ben’s focused on maximizing profits for the business. For his part, Jonathan explained that time spent with his children is important. His wife works so Jonathan drops off their children at school and daycare before coming to the office. In the summer, he coaches his son’s Little League team. One aspect of leading the firm that Jonathan particularly likes is forging new client relationships. His frequent lunch meetings have been his way of networking and this outreach has been a primary source for new clients.

Resolution

It quickly became clear that care for their families was the key motivator for both Ben and Jonathan in starting their business. For Ben, it’s through financial security and sustainability that he primarily contributes to his family. For Jonathan, a flexible schedule is essential. Uncovering that common value of care for family helped the two partners to better understand each other’s decisions.

Hearing the complementary contributions each make to the business helped them to better appreciate the partnership. Once Ben understood the purpose behind Jonathan’s frequent lunchtime meetings he supported the strategy.

Instead of expecting Jonathan to take on office tasks, it would be a better use of both Jonathan and Ben’s time if they hired an office manager to handle their administrative needs. With these demands no longer a drain on Ben’s time and energy, Ben would be available to mentor and supervise the team of paralegals in their firm. Developing their talents and skills is a fulfilling role for Ben and advances his goal of sustainability of the firm.

Jonathan, reminded of the pleasure and value of the conversations he and Ben used to share, saw again the purpose of regular partner meetings as an essential element for the health of their company. The two partners now have a standing lunch meeting twice a week where they alternate discussions on day-to-day management and long-term strategy for their business.

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Top 7 Reasons to Use a Mediator to Settle Internal Business Conflicts

Genuine Neutrality

Mediation is assisted negotiation by an unbiased third party in the dispute. No one within your organization can bring this quality of neutrality because they will have their own perspective on the dispute and stake in its outcome. An outside mediator is unaffected by any outcome and can therefore better hear and respond to the negotiating parties.

A New Perspective

A mediator doesn’t get caught up in the details of a conflict. A trained mediator helps each person in the dispute uncover the underlying reasons for the conflict, aspects that can frequently be impossible to see when on the battlefield. A mediator brings a bird’s eye view that reveals the larger patterns at work in the conflict.

Provides focus on future action rather than blame—A durable, mediated agreement has specific, agreed-upon actions and clearly stated consequences if the agreement is broken. The specificity of the agreement breaks through the tendency for condemnation and excuses.

Greater Efficiency

Conflict within your business is a huge drain on productivity. When you add up the time lost in disputes between business partners, employees and mangers, plus the energy spent among colleagues rehashing the hurt feelings, the planning on how to get even, the pondering what you should have said – it’s a wonder anything gets done at all some days. When you compare this expenditure of time and of energy your business puts into an argument, with the distracted focus and the barriers to productivity, investment in mediation is always a sound business choice.

A repaired relationship is stronger than one that has had no conflict—Can you remember a relationship that grew stronger and closer after a conflict was resolved? Maybe it was a disagreement with a parent, sibling, spouse or close friend. Similarly, coworkers that resolve disputes through honest communication build stronger teams than those too afraid to disagree. Good relationships are not built on always getting along but on the positive resolution of differences. A neutral mediator can break through the logjam and provide tools to resolve future disagreements.

Prevent Disengagement

Conflicts often arise because people care enough to fight for what they think is best. If disagreements continue to fester, those in conflict typically begin to disengage, to cease to care about the outcome and to plot an exit strategy. If you’ve ever experienced a rocky romance with frequent break-ups, you know the moment when the relationship was truly over was when you became dispassionate and no longer emotionally connected. If there is to be an ongoing business relationship it’s important to bring in a professional mediator before this final stage is reached. Once this junction is reached however, mediation can still be valuable to dissolve the partnership in a fair and equitable manner.

Mediation Builds Trust

Employees, partners and managers will know that you respect and appreciate their work if you are willing to initiate difficult conversations. If anyone in your organization is allowed to break agreements, to act with entitlement or to promote an atmosphere of ridicule and intimidation, you risk losing your best employees. Instead of a culture of fear, blame and apathy, when you confront disagreement you foster creativity, teamwork and pride.

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How is Bullying Different from Teasing?

Bullies frequently call their actions “just teasing.”

The main difference between teasing and bullying is that truly good-natured teasing is enjoying by everyone in the conversation and teasing is allowed in all directions. It isn’t teasing if everyone isn’t allowed to tease back without retaliation or if there’s discomfort with the give-and-take. Teasing can easily cross the line into harassment or bullying.

Work place bullying can also take the form of social snubbing, withholding of crucial information or the spreading lies and gossip.

Are You a Bully?

Check to see if the person you are teasing is “smiling with their eyes” rather than just pretending to laugh. If they are not completely enjoying your comments you have crossed the line. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I was just kidding,’ “Can’t you take a joke?” or “You’re too sensitive.” If you’ve said any one of these or similar phrases more that once a month you might benefit from coaching to find other, better ways to connect with others.

Signs of Bullying

Is bullying taking place in your organization? If so, your company is not as productive as it needs to be to meet today’s marketplace challenges.

Look for these clues:

  • Those with power and influence use derogatory nicknames. Derogatory nicknames are used behind people’s backs. For example, “Glad you could join us, Princess!” “Here comes Mr. Perfect.”
  • Blame is assigned to individuals without evidence or clear communication. For example, ” I bet Joe didn’t turn on the alarm system again.”
  • Rumor is presented as fact. Innuendo is allowed to effect a person’s reputation. For example, “Bill had red eyes again after lunch. I bet he’s on drugs. I don’t think he can handle that promotion.”
  • People are called “overly sensitive.”
  • Employees get away with yelling, sarcasm and intimidation because they fill a special role, perhaps as a particularly effective salesperson, friend of the owner or holder of technical expertise. This behavior might be excused as “just being too rough.” The employee who is the roughest bully sets the tone for your entire organization or department.
  • Practical jokes being played on a particular person or group on a consistent basis.
  • Social gatherings that regularly exclude some employees.
  • When emails are circulated with a blind cc among your employees, is the purpose to isolate, humiliate, and undermine particular staff?

If these signs are present in your organization you have a culture that’s negatively affecting your team. You are at risk to lose dedicated and talented employees and are building a staff of bullies and targets. It is time to bring in outside help that is percived as truly neutral to assist in you in the necessary culture change.

When You are Bullied

Sometimes bullying can come up so gradually that you might not think of yourself as being bullied. You know the old story about the frog in the pot of water, complacent as the temperature slowly rises; is the water boiling around you?

Signs you are being bullied:

  • You are regularly yelled at.
  • Your boss or coworkers talk to you with dismissive tones and looks (eye rolling). “Whatever.” “What do you expect me to do about it?”
  • You have been given an unflattering “nickname.”
  • You are often asked questions in a challenging tone that puts you on the defensive. “Where the hell were you?” “Do you even know what you are doing?”
  • You are denied access to information or contacts you need to do your job yet are blamed for poor results. “You don’t seem to know what the clients need anymore!”
  • You dread interacting with your boss and/or coworkers.

Take steps to take to eliminate bulling.

Step 1 – Reflection

Try to figure out what’s motivating the bully. Is it to consolidate or obtain power? Is it to enforce some group norm that they feel you are challenging? Are they pointing out your mistakes because they are jealous of some advantage you have such as youth, education, talent or connections? Determine the need is the bully trying to meet by their behavior. Is it a need for equality, autonomy or some other reason?

Step 2 – Evaluate the Potential of a Direct Discussion

Knowing the bully’s motivation, determine if a direct conversation from you could help change the situation.

How will this person respond to an open honest discussion from you? Is it possible that if they knew their behavior was having a negative impact they would change it?

Thoughtful preparation for this discussion can be very helpful to clarify your thinking. Being assertive without being aggressive can effectively communicate your resolve to end the bullying without fostering defensiveness in the other person. Working with an objective coach can help you to practice your approach.

Step 3 – Direct Discussion

Speak to the bully if you believe they can be open to listening to you. This is your best opportunity to end the conflict with the least amount of damage to your reputation.

In your discussion, use specific examples rather than general accusations. Explain how these examples represent a pattern you wish to change. Speak about the different behavior you seek rather than just a list of your complaints.

“At staff meetings, you refer to me as “Princess.” This makes me feel angry because it sounds as if you think I consider myself entitled to special privileges. In the future, please refer to me by my name.”

If the bully justifies their behavior, try to find another way they can get their needs met without bullying you.

Be prepared to listen to complaints about your behavior and consider if these changes will bring an end to the bullying. Are they excuses or genuine feedback expressed in an inappropriate manner?

“So, when I’m given permission to leave early to pick up my child you think that’s unfair because you aren’t allowed to leave early? I can see how you could find that frustrating.”

Step 4 – Prepare for Future Action

Monitor and record behavior in a written record with details on incidents of bullying with dates, times, and what happened. Note other people who witnessed the event. Be as clear and objective in your recording as possible. Present the facts with a minimum of emotion. If there is a repeat of the behavior you may wish to take your complaints to a higher authority or remove yourself from the bully’s influence.

Step 5 – Seeking Allies

If you decide to take further steps, your written record will be a valuable record of the pattern of bullying.

When you meet with management or the human resources department it can be helpful if you can communicate any larger pattern that might be happening. Have other employees left the company because of the bully? How is this effecting the business in the market place? When you present your case, it is possible they might dismiss your concerns or might side with the bully. You strengthen your case if you can communicate from both a business perspective and a moral perspective.

If the bully’s actions violate the law, investigate the appropriate authority with which to file your complaint.

Step 6 – Make a Strategic Retreat

If the first five steps do not end the bullying you will need to make a strategic retreat. Everyone who leaves an abusive situation says they wish they had acted sooner. Don’t believe you deserve to be bullied.

If the bullying won’t stop and workplace culture continues to be poisonous, protect your health and reputation by finding another job elsewhere, even if it means a position with less money or prestige. Take steps to build an escape plan and enact it.

When you leave the company, document your reasons for leaving to management or HR. Leaving a trail of how you were affected may help the next person who is victimized.

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