Creating the Right Atmosphere for Negotiating Differences

Carla Rieger

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Conflict resolution is one of the most important skills needed in the 21st Century. Think how often you need to negotiate with people, even on the weekends. For example, on Saturday I started out negotiating with my husband whether or not to go for a run or a walk. We settled on a run/walk. Then we stopped into a garage sale to buy a coffee maker. We dickered a bit over the price. Later, my assistant wanted to change the day she came into work. That took some creative thinking to find a solution. In the evening, we talked with our grown son about vacationing together in November. Should he come here, should we go there? It happens constantly. Yet, few of us learned any formal skills in this area.

Mostly we learned conflict resolution when we were young - from watching the adults in our life. They learned it from the adults in their life, and so on. If the big people had good negotiation skills you lucked out, if they didn't, you get to blunder along as they did. Unless of course, you decide to learn some new skills. Some adults showed us that good negotiation means always having it your way. Conquerors get what they need in life, but may be quite unpopular. Other adults showed us that others should always get their needs met first. Sacrificers are perhaps more loved, but often lose people's respect. On top of that they may get a symptom of chronic resentment, such as heartburn or pain-in-the-neck. Another popular technique in Western cultures is to avoid all conflict at any cost. Evaders often notice that people don't trust them. It is hard to feel on stable ground with them because their rugs are very lumpy, too much swept underneath.

Good negotiation skills help you to get your needs met, AND those of the other party. This is easier said than done. It requires time and creativity. If the stakes are high enough, however, it is often worth trying to find a win-win solution. As the population expands, resources dwindle. We, as a species, now know how to destroy ourselves, and all other species of plant or animal life in a matter of minutes. The old phrase “Necessity is the Mother of Invention" comes to mind. We NEED to learn to share and get along, or else. Many forms of collaborative negotiation are emerging to meet that need. The most popular is the cognitive approach. This is where the two parties talk things through. However, in practice this method alone usually only provides short-term solutions. It can also be challenging for those who are unable to articulate their thoughts and feelings.

It helps to focus on the impact of other levels of communication. All the verbal skills in the world won't help, if people can't see past their own perspective. Non-verbal, kinesthetic influences such as facial expression, tone of voice, room set up, time of day, emotional mood, body language, personal power, core beliefs, intention all contribute to the success or failure of a negotiation. Right-brained or gestalt approaches to conflict resolution invite in the whole person. By consciously operating from deeper realms of communication, profound changes can occur in shorter periods of time. For example, my theatre troupe tried several times to negotiate a problem with another troupe over the phone and via email. Finally, we sat down face-to-face in a beautiful room overlooking the ocean, with a roaring fire. Over tea we managed to sort through many issues in one sitting. The environment and the fact we could read each other's non-verbal signals helped us re-build trust.

Many people take the time to create the right atmosphere when spending a romantic weekend with their beloved. They get candles, music, good food, and ensure comfy surroundings. Yet, when they have a touchy issue to bring up, they blurt it out while rushing through traffic. It pays off tremendously to set the right tone, time, space, and place for dealing with interpersonal issues - whether at home or work. When we have on-going disharmony with key people in our life, and issues don't get resolved; our energy and effectiveness are compromised. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, a thoughtful negotiation is always worth it. Otherwise we cannot move forward in life. As a great Evader once said “Before I criticize someone, I walk a mile in their shoes. That way, if they get angry, they're a mile away and barefoot. "

Carla Rieger is an expert on creative people skills at work. If you want a motivational speaker, trainer, or leadership coach to help you stay on the creative edge, contact Carla Rieger.

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