The Debate vs. Dialogue Debate

Here is a table from HBS Working Knowledge that lays out in a format easily grasped a point-counterpoint comparison of two approaches to conflict: debate vs. dialogue.

For example:

Debate involves assuming there is a right answer, and that you have it. Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of the answer. Debate is about winning. Dialogue is about exploring common ground.


Tricks in the Trade

From an article from Warwickshire College:

You already know all the tricks people use in negotiations, because you've already heard them all or used them all yourself. Let's have a look at the more common ones.

"But that's all I can afford"

This may be absolutely true, or this may be a ruse to get you to discount or meet someone's price demand. If this is true then the person genuinely cannot afford what they want and should not be looking. If this is false then it's a nice try. In either case, standing up to this will force them to either back away or offer more...

From the other point of view, sales people will tell you that their price is already at rock bottom and they can't afford to discount any further. In that case, you have to decide if you are looking at products that you really can't afford, or if this is a trick. In either case, walk away and see what happens.

"You'll have to ask my husband/wife/boss"

...As with all the tricks, this works both ways. A salesperson will defer to a boss - real or imaginary - to make a decision, and may even come back from that conversation with a tempting special offer if you sign right away. Don't be fooled by this.

A buyer will often find the final decision is just too much pressure and will defer to someone with more authority - often a trick to give themselves time or to back away completely.

"That's expensive, I only paid x last time"

That was last time, this is this time. If the previous supplier was willing to give away the product or service at a ridiculous price then that's their lookout. It's always better to negotiate some good business than lots of bad business.

"The other guy said it would be cheaper"

Other guys have a tendency to do that...Ask "which other guy? What did he look like? When was this?" If they can tell you, there may well be another guy. If they can't remember, they're probably making it up.

"I'll meet you half way"

A very reasonable and fair sounding offer that gets you to pull your selling price down or your buying price up. You can't say no, because it sounds so fair. Or can you?

"How much for just this bit? And this bit? And this bit?"

Breaking a package down into components is an excellent way to erode the price...Remember - if your product or service is a package, keep it that way. You can achieve the same result by asking a supplier to itemise their quote.

"I just don't want to pay that much"

Well, at least they're honest. What can you do? They've effectively given you an ultimatum. You either accept their price or walk away. In fact, what they're really telling you is "I want your product or service but you haven't created enough value yet".

You have a simple choice - either build up the perceived value or remove cost in order to meet their target price...

Time or availability limited offers

If an offer is valid today, it will be valid tomorrow - if they want your business enough. You'll see this in general terms, in retail - "sale must end Saturday" - and you'll see it in specific terms too - "if you agree to this now then I will do x". Remember - "now" is a very flexible thing, so don't allow yourself to be put under pressure. There are very few products in this world that are so variable in price that you can't afford to make a proper decision. The same applies to "buy now, limited quantities available". Remember, there's only a limited quantity of everything on the planet, so it's not a good reason to give in!

"I'll think about it"

This means "no". Treat it as a "no" and act accordingly. Either write off the negotiation or challenge them directly - "what can I do to help you make the right decision?"


This means maybe, but you haven't completely convinced me yet. The key is in their behaviour, not in their words. If they are still talking to you, they're still interested."

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We Honor the Fallen on Memorial Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

"The poem 'In Flanders Fields' by the Canadian army physician John McCrae remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915.

The most asked question is: why poppies?

Wild poppies flower when other plants in their direct neighbourhood are dead. Their seeds can lie on the ground for years and years, but only when there are no more competing flowers or shrubs in the vicinity (for instance when someone firmly roots up the ground), these seeds will sprout.

There was enough rooted up soil on the battlefield of the Western Front; in fact the whole front consisted of churned up soil. So in May 1915, when McCrae wrote his poem, around him bloodred poppies blossomed like no one had ever seen before."

Find much more on this poem and its author at The Heritage of the Great War


Understand Conflict Resolution Styles in Dealing with Workplace Disputes

"Conflict in the workplace can be incredibly destructive to good teamwork.

Managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in situations where co-operation breaks down and the team's mission is threatened. This is particularly the case where the wrong approaches to conflict resolution are used.

To calm these situations down, it helps to take a positive approach to conflict resolution, where discussion is courteous and non-confrontational, and the focus is on issues rather than on individuals. If this is done, then, as long as people listen carefully and explore facts, issues and possible solutions properly, conflict can often be resolved effectively. "

So states this article from MindTools.com that stresses understanding and recognizing different approaches people take to resolving conflict and using that information in an interest-based relational approach to dispute resolution, explaining:

"In the 1970’s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Killman identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness...

Competitive: People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is an emergency and a decision needs to be make fast; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.

Collaborative: People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when a you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

Compromising: People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser him- or herself also expects to relinquish something. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

Avoiding: People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.

Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you're in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary."


What is Alternative Dispute Resolution Anyway?

"'Adjudication' is a term that can include decision making by a judge in a court, by an administrative tribunal or quasi-judicial tribunal, a specially appointed commission, or by an arbitrator. An adjudicator determines the outcome of a dispute by making a decision for the parties that is final, binding and enforceable. The parties present their case to the adjudicator (or tribunal, commission or arbitrator) whose role is to weigh the evidence and make a decision that is final, binding and enforceable..."

Alternatives to adjudication processes are available to resolve disputes and include "consensual dispute resolution...[meaning] that the disputants themselves decide the process and the outcome. Consensual dispute resolution processes include negotiation, facilitation, mediation...

Negotiation is a process in which two or more participants attempt to reach a joint decision on matters of common concern in situations where they are in actual or potential disagreement or conflict...Negotiators may use a variety of approaches. "Power negotiation" involves a negotiator's understanding and strategic use of various sources of power to achieve a negotiator's bargaining goals. Interest-based negotiation (Fisher, Ury and Patton 1991) attempts to reach solutions that meet the interests of all parties.

An assumption of interest-based negotiation is that a variety of interests or motivations may underlie parties' positions. The goal of the interest-based approach is to satisfy those interests rather than bargain over bargaining positions. This style of negotiation may also be called "problem-solving" negotiation, "all gain" negotiation or "value creating" negotiation (Mnookin et al 2000). Some approaches to negotiation use game theory, including "tit-for-tat" approaches which use strategic combinations of cooperation and aggression...

Mediation is a process in which an impartial third party helps disputants resolve a dispute or plan a transaction, but does not have the power to impose a binding solution (LeBaron Duryea 2001, 121). Mediators use a variety of processes. Some mediators use "interest-based" approaches (Fisher, Ury and Patton 1991), while others use "rights-based" approaches. Some mediators are "facilitative," providing only process assistance for negotiation and using interest-based approaches. Facilitative, interest-based mediation is taught widely in North America for the purposes of community, family and commercial mediation and tends to foster the avoidance of mediator recommendations or suggestions in order to preserve mediator neutrality and to encourage party control of outcomes.

Other mediators, including many labour mediators and commercial mediators, may use an "evaluative" style, providing suggestions or recommendations (for comparison see Waldman, 1997, 1998). Evaluative, rights-based mediation processes are similar to adjudicative processes such as non-binding arbitration. Other mediators may be "activist," intervening to ensure all parties are represented and that power balances are addressed (Forester 1994; Forester and Stitzel, 1989), but activist mediators do not necessarily make specific recommendations. Other mediators consider themselves to be "transformative" mediators, working less toward settlements and more toward transformation of relationships (Bush and Folger 1994; Folger and Bush, 2001; Lederach 1995).

Still others foster "narrative" mediation processes in which the mediator is more of a joint participant with the parties in the joint creation of new possibilities for the future (Cobb, 1994; Winslade and Mo nk 2000). There is considerable debate in the field of conflict resolution about these differing approaches and styles of mediation. Many mediators are familiar with all these approaches and design mediation processes to suit the particular parties and the situation (Waldman 1997, 1998)..."

Read much more in this article by Catherine Morris from which the foregoing quotations were excerpted.

Mediation Mindset Named One of Top Five Blogs

I am very pleased to announce that this blog has been named one of the top five mediation blogs by the National Institute for Advanced Conflict Resolution. I am humbled to be in the company of the other great blogs cited. The Institute stated:

"The advent of blogging as a form of internet communication has begun to revolutionize how information is disseminated on the web. The mediation field has not been immune from this development, and there are a growing number of blogs relating to the mediation field popping up on the internet. In recognition of the efforts of these blog pioneers, we have surveyed the field and our findings are presented below...

4. Mediation Mindset
(Written by Anthony Cerminaro, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) This newcomer to the field promises to be a rising star. With a focus on negotiation, this blog presents its information in a compelling and informative style. Of particular note was a recent article on negotiating in China which was as fascinating as it was informative. We predict this blog will become a staple for mediators interested in keeping abreast of developments in this area..."

More details are available at this NIACR page.


Dealing with Negotiation Mind Games

"Most of us think of negotiation as a purely rational exercise. The reality is just the opposite. Personality, emotions and strategic moves play a large role in most negotiations and can be responsible for the success or failure to reach agreement. Mind games can also play out behind the scenes so that negotiating your relationship with the other side, including your legitimacy and credibility, can play as large a part as what is going on in the main negotiating event. Thus is it important to learn how to “hold your own” in difficult negotiations and with “difficult people”.

Below are set out just some of the ways to become a more successful and effective negotiator when dealing with mind games.

1. Preparation...Learn to prepare in a way that allows you to anticipate how the negotiation will go, where obstacles will arise and what information you need from the other side...

2. Increased Awareness. This includes being aware not only of how you react to conflict but also how the other side reacts...The importance of this is that you will be able to convey information to other persons in a way that suits them, predict what will frustrate them during the negotiation, and generally be better able to understand their interests and goals...

3. Strategies. Not only is it important to know what types of negotiating strategies are available, you also need to know when to use them...What happens when different negotiation strategies meet is also important to know. Of course, selecting the most appropriate strategy is the first step, knowing how to implement it is the next.

4. Effective Communication Skills...By communication skills we mean not only what we say and what we ask but also, and perhaps more importantly, how we listen to the other side. Knowing the elements of successful communication such as the structure of the message, delivery style, the type of language used, body language, impressions and biases, will greatly assist you in negotiating better...

5. Emotions...Sometimes dealing appropriately with...emotions...is best achieved by...maintaining emotional distance...in other circumstances, it may be best to make the emotions explicit and acknowledge them...

6. Difficult People and Heavy Subjects...There are different ways and techniques of dealing with difficult people depending on the problematic behavior...Each one requires knowing how to stay in control and conscious of what you are doing to avoid automatically reacting to the other side...

7. Tactics and Strategic Moves...Most tactics are based on manipulation and used with competitive strategy. However, almost all of them are ineffective once they have been exposed. Strategic moves are more complicated and are not based on manipulating the other side or putting them at a disadvantage. Using empathy, stepping to the other side of the table, active listening, and reframing are all strategic moves that enhance the chance of a win/win agreement and do not harm relationships.

8. Hidden Agendas. It is important to understand that there are a whole array of hidden attitudes and agendas that drive the negotiations as much as the explicit differences over the issues. Before you reach a good agreement these masked assumptions and unvoiced views must be brought to the surface...Culture is another area where hidden agendas arise. By learning more about, and becoming more conscious of these hidden agendas and the masked assumptions that are just “behind the scenes” in many negotiations, you will become a more effective and successful negotiator."

Read more in this article by Delee Fromm.

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Negotiating in China

Westerners need to know more than basic Chinese etiquette to negotiate successfully with the Chinese according to an article co-written by John L. Graham and M. Mark Lam. According to the article, westerners negotiating with the Chinese must always be mindful of the following eight important elements underpinning the Chinese negotiation style:

"Guanxi (Personal Connections)
While Americans put a premium on networking, information, and institutions, the Chinese place a premium on individuals’ social capital within their group of friends, relatives, and close associates.

Zhongjian Ren (The Intermediary)
Business deals for Americans in China don't have a chance without the zhongjian ren, the intermediary. In the United States, we tend to trust others until or unless we’re given reason not to. In China, suspicion and distrust characterize all meetings with strangers.

Shehui Dengji (Social Status)
American-style, "just call me Mary" casualness does not play well in a country where the Confucian values of obedience and deference to one’s superiors remain strong. The formality goes much deeper, however—unfathomably so, to many Westerners.

Renji Hexie (Interpersonal Harmony)
The Chinese sayings, "A man without a smile should not open a shop." and "Sweet temper and friendliness produce money." speak volumes about the importance of harmonious relations between business partners.

Zhengti Guannian (Holistic Thinking)
The Chinese think in terms of the whole while Americans think sequentially and individualistically, breaking up complex negotiation tasks into a series of smaller issues: price, quantity, warranty, delivery, and so forth. Chinese negotiators tend to talk about those issues all at once, skipping among them, and, from the Americans’ point of view, seemingly never settling anything.

Jiejian (Thrift)
China’s long history of economic and political instability has taught its people to save their money, a practice known as jiejian. The focus on savings results, in business negotiations, in a lot of bargaining over price—usually through haggling. Chinese negotiators will pad their offers with more room to maneuver than most Americans are used to, and they will make concessions on price with great reluctance and only after lengthy discussions.

Mianzi ("Face" or Social Capital)
In Chinese business culture, a person’s reputation and social standing rest on saving face. If Westerners cause the Chinese embarrassment or loss of composure, even unintentionally, it can be disastrous for business negotiations.

Chiku Nailao (Endurance, Relentlessness, or Eating Bitterness and Enduring Labor)
The Chinese are famous for their work ethic. But they take diligence one step further—to endurance. Where Americans place high value on talent as a key to success, the Chinese see chiku nailao as much more important and honorable."

For additional commentary and a link to the article, see this post from China Law Blog.


Active Listening Aids Negotiators and Mediators

How often we hear, but do not listen. While another is speaking, we are formulating a response or thinking about all manner of extraneous items, problems and affairs. We believe perhaps that we know or have already heard what the speaker is saying, but do not bother to verify whether our assumptions are true. Communications break down in part because we do not really listen, actively listen. This active listening study guide puts it this way:

"Active listening intentionally focuses on who you are listening to, whether in a group or one-on-one, in order to understand what he or she is saying. As the listener, you should then be able to repeat back in your own words what they have said to their satisfaction. This does not mean you agree with, but rather understand, what they are saying."

Much more on this topic is available from this mindtools site that suggests:

"1. Start by Understanding Your Own Communication Style...
By becoming more aware of how others perceive you, you can adapt more readily to their styles of communicating...you can make another person more comfortable with you by selecting and emphasizing certain behaviors that fit within your personality and resonate with another. In doing this, you will prepare yourself to become an active listener.

2. Be An Active Listener
...which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, show support, etc. If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say it - this will reinforce their message and help you control mind drift.

3. Use Nonverbal Communication
...Nonverbal communication is facial expressions like smiles, gestures, eye contact, and even your posture. This shows the person you are communicating with that you are indeed listening actively and will prompt further communications...

4. Give Feedback
...Restate what you think you heard and ask, "Have I understood you correctly?"...Feedback is a verbal communications means used to clearly demonstrate you are actively listening and to confirm the communications between you and others. Obviously, this serves to further ensure the communications are understood and is a great tool to use to verify everything you heard while actively listening..."