No one can negotiate until they understand the situation. Wherever there is conflict there is a problem to be solved. This involves getting two or more people to agree on something. Problem solving is an essential skill of any effect negotiator.
Problem solving starts with defining the problem. Overcoming a problem cannot be accomplished until the problem has been identified. Often the issue that appears to be the problem overshadows the actual underlying cause or causes of dissension. To resolve the problem the real causes of dissension must be addressed. Mediators observe closely how each of the parties reacts to suggested solutions to identify which party has additional issues that need to be brought up and addressed before a final resolution initiative will be well received.
One method of identifying ancillary issues is to start each negotiation conference or session with a casual conversation with the other side. During this casual dialogue listen for personal, business, or totally unrelated issues that may hinder open communication about the main issue. Look for indications that suggest the other person is uncomfortable with you or the group.
Once you have collected the available “intelligence" separate the issues into those that have an impact on your discussions and those that do not. If any of the issues that are not related can be satisfied with input on your part, offer it during the casual conversation preamble to the serious negotiation. This can be anything from how to get a parking ticket validated to consoling the other person on a personal situation. The goal here is to build a supportive relationship with the person that transgresses the main issue.
For the issues you have uncovered that relate to the matter at hand, separate the “wants" from the “needs". You will want to focus on ways to satisfy the “needs" of the other parry.
Problem solving is the meat of dispute resolution. By expanding the issues being addressed, the parties are providing the opportunity to resolve the dispute by pairing ancillary problem solutions so that both people emerge feeling a sense of victory. Win/Win negotiating is not so much about appeasing both sides as it is about pairing needs and satisfiers so that both parties think that they have come away with more than what they had to give away to reach the agreement.
Bill Scarpino is a professional negotiator and mediator. He writes about problem solving techniques in both business and personal negotiations.