How to do it, offending no one
Conflicts have a way of imposing themselves upon us. We may not be seeking one and yet it finds its way to test our mettle. Home, social gathering, work or the Board of Directors, conflicts just raise their ugly head to create undue friction. It might even apply what Confucius wrote about friction:
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
Master negotiators have always been the most ardent fans of consensus building technique to break the stalemate in tough situations. Although it may sound impossible, the challenge becomes easier to handle with the help of scientific principles. The seasoned experts attack barriers from different angles where rigid attitudes meet with a give-and-take offer to analyze the most difficult barriers. Let us examine a few of the important components of a negotiated settlement in steps:
Build rapport with both parties: The power to create consensus lies in the personality of the mediator. So long as we can win the trust of both the conflicting parties, the third outlook that of the mediator, becomes more acceptable. Failure will lead to the unnecessary breakdown of negotiations.
Name the most important barrier to a general agreement: In most cases, the biggest hurdle is the easiest to overcome. This is the point with the highest possibility of tangibles
Breakdown these tangibles into individual concerns so they get easier to pick one by one: smaller issues become easier to dissect. It weakens both their cases simultaneously
Elaborate on each other’s choice options in the event consensus continues to elude: this exercise lets us highlight possible slide for both even below their prevalent status. Fear of loss is a powerful motivator in the decision-making process
Analyze the merits and demerits of available alternatives. Let both sides witness their options shrink. This technique can bring out your ‘ground and pound’ strategy when executed with dexterity and help a clearer picture emerge. You made both of them aware of immediate loss against long-term gain
Discuss the possibility of including the remaining alternatives into the original offer on the table. Give a carrot after showing the above stick of dwindling possibilities. This tactic can show how far ahead the two sides have moved towards consensus
Highlight the negotiable, the flexible and then weigh them against the non-negotiable to reach a consensus. This exercise helps restate the three components to soften both parties’ stand in the light of a possible outcome
If the deadlock persists, respect the participants’ emotions and take a short break for coffee, snacks, or lunch! Food helps soften the thought process while empty stomachs stress out fast. This could be the icebreaker in a non-formal setting. It allows members of each camp to talk about the alternatives among themselves and weigh the options
Caution: Do not suggest a ‘vote’ in the event consensus is still hard to reach. It is only when the majority in each camp shows keenness to accept the middle ground should they cast their ballot.
This is just one of many techniques of conflict resolution. I have seen it work well in many situations. Readers might have different experiences and/or observations. I shall look forward to learning from the discerning readers’ comments and/or critique.
P.S. The severity of the dispute determines how much effort we need to put into the exercise. Most matters of common concern bring out better results at the local level, with no outside help. Large numbers of agencies offer expert advice and mediation services to solve the toughest problems. The preceding synopsis is a curtain raiser on the art of skillful negotiations, derived from the author’s personal experiences. It is not a legal opinion in any form or manner as it is neither drafted nor vetted by a legal counsel. Actual results depend on some variables beyond the purview of this article.