Watch for Dynamics of Escalation and De-escalation.
We have all seen it happen. An even toned conversation all of a sudden goes out of control. Tempers flare, people leave the room. Often these scenarios can be altered if the participants are aware of the factors escalating tensions as they arise. Points are made, counterpoints asserted, one-upmanship takes place, voice tone changes, expressions change, the pace of speech accelerates. If one sees this happening, there is no loss in taking a break, changing tone, slowing things down. Much can be said for the pause that refreshes. Silence is a gift.
Control the Spigot of Disclosure.
At the heart of communications in negotiation is the flow of information. This can range from communicating ones own interests, eliciting and confirming the interest of the other, learning about context, developing principles for fair resolutions, exchanging offers, discussing alternatives, assessing and evaluating legal options and even possible litigation outcomes.
There is a balance in disclosure. Social scientists have observed that disclosure by one party encourages disclosure by the other; and the opposite is true as well. It pays to be clear in advance of what are one’s confidential facts, interests, concerns and analyses, and also of what one would like to learn from the other. These views should be revisited throughout the negotiation.
Disclosure Choices are Informed by Competitive or Cooperative Strategy and Behavior.
In short, be artful in striking the delicate balance in disclosure. Share where possible, both to encourage sharing and also to enable one’s counterparty to help think of options that might meet one’s own needs. But be judicious as well, on disclosure of one’s own weak points, points that give the other party leverage, feelings that might provoke, and arguments that might lead to escalation or corrective action shoring up the other party’s position.
The fundamental difficulty entangled in the preceding consideration is the question of whether to engage in strategic behavior that is competitive or cooperative. Current negotiation theory has shown the greater advantages that can be gained by cooperative behavior. Only cooperation can enable both parties to learn and work together to meet the interests of all, and to maximize gain. A legitimate cause for hesitation in proceeding down the cooperative path is the view that one’s counterparty is motivated by a purely competitive strategy or driven by ill will. The bind implicit in this assessment is that ill will or competitive approaches might change if one takes a risk and extends the olive branch. It takes courage and the ability to take a short term loss to make this long term advance.
There is no ultimate solution to this problem. In each instance one uses one’s best judgment. But it pays to be aware of this set of choices and of the way the exercise by one party of choices to follow a competitive or cooperative strategy can itself be transformative for all parties.