Negotiation is a process of trying to arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion about something. It could be a sales situation; it could be a behavioral contract; it could be a cease fire. Negotiation is basically an agreement. What makes negotiation’s time consuming is that each party involved often has numerous needs that require some kind of guarantee of satisfaction. Until those needs are at least addressed in some way, there will be objections.
Objections are critically important in successful negotiations and taking into account all objections is ecological. That is, it takes into account varying components of the system. Negotiations often prove a failure after the fact because one or more of the parties does not express their objections to the proposed settlement. Then, after the negotiation is over, they start to feel shortchanged and don’t abide by the agreement.
In every successful negotiation it is critically important that objections be addressed. Some people involved in the negotiation may be shy or reserved about voicing objections. The facilitator or leader must draw out objections from participants so they can be discussed. Once out in the open, objections can be analyised and the need or concern they represent satisfied. For example, let’s say a couple is in marital counseling negotiating a behavioral contract. The husband wants the wife to contribute her paycheck into the joint checking account but she wants to open her own checking account. She objects to putting her money into the joint checking account. A good question to ask to understand the reason for the objection is “what would happen if you did put your money in the joint checking account?" This requires the wife to verbalize her concerns. She might say “I wouldn’t feel as though I had some of my own money to spend in my own way whenever I wanted to for whatever reason. " The negotiator might then say “If you knew you could spend your money any way you wanted whenever you wanted for whatever you wanted even with the money in a joint checking account, would you then be ok with the joint checking account?" The wife might ponder this and if she says yes the condition upon which the negotiation would be successful is clarified. But, if she says no that indicates there is yet another objection which has not yet been verbalized. At that point, the negotiator needs to uncover a deeper layer of objection. This is accomplished largely through asking specific questions.
This process of uncovering layers of objection is the ecological part of negotiation. It ensures that all parties involved or all parts of a single person’s mind have addressed every single objection. Ecological negotiation is one of the most effective means of behavior change because although we may say we want to change behaviors, for example, to quit smoking, we find it difficult or fail because there is also a part of us that does not want to change. A person who says they want to lose weight might be surprised to find there is a part of them that objects to that goal. Ecological negotiation attempts to find the reason behind not wanting to lose weight and try and satisfy that need in some other way. For example, being overweight can serve a need. In some it might be power, in others it might be protection. Without discovering the need that being overweight serves and finding other ways to meet that need, there will be an objection to losing weight.
Everyone has needs and most all behavior is designed to meet those needs. Ecological negotiation takes this into account and recognizes that all objections are a way of saying “hey, if that happens my needs won’t be met so I’m going to object. " By accepting the objection in that light and helping that need be met in other ways, the negotiator removes obstacles to a truly successful negotiation.
Ken Fields is owner and principle counselor at Open Mind Counseling, http://www.openmindcounseling.com . He is a nationally certified licensed mental health counselor with over 25 years of experience in working with individuals, couples, families and groups. He has been a crisis intervention counselor, has taught at university and has been an administrator in a human service agency. He has taught public classes in stress and anger management, mediation, communication and negotiation, self image psychology, motivation and goal setting and crisis prevention. Mr. Fields now offers online communication coaching and counseling specializing in cognitive behavior and family systems therapy.