Conflict is a universal experience. Whether with our partners, friends, colleagues, or bosses, it’s impossible to always agree with everyone. Consequently, we encounter conflict frequently in our personal and professional lives, and our first instinct is often to avoid it. We all know how easily disagreements can become hurtful and out of control. However, with the right tools and strategies, we can learn to reframe it and make conflict more constructive.
You can employ negotiation techniques when individuals have similar objectives but conflict arises on how the objective is reached. Conflict resolution is a great way to curb these conflicts and make sure that everyone's objective is met.
Our business negotiation consultants define conflict as an ongoing and active disagreement between two or more people with opposing opinions or a negative perception of the other’s values or principles. It’s important to remember that conflict is neither good nor bad and can have positive and negative outcomes for everyone. Some find managed conflict a great motivator that enhances loyalty, leads to innovation, and inspires change. However, it can also lead to anger, secrecy, lower productivity, and damaged relationships. That’s why conflict resolution involves encouraging both sides to get to the root of the issue by communicating constructively, focusing on the positives, and finding different ways to reach a place of understanding. It’s a neutral process that happens over time, focused on achieving peace, moving forward, and establishing commonality. An essential tool for repairing a conflict is negotiation.
How Does Negotiation Relate to Conflict Resolution?
A negotiation is a planned discussion between two or more people to reach an agreement. Its purpose is to find common ground, repair relationships and decide on a deal’s key points and limitations. Although you might see similarities between negotiation and conflict resolution, there are fundamental differences.
A conflict can happen at any time, even within the negotiation process, and is generally spontaneous and antagonistic. At this point, both parties might request a separate conflict resolution to get back on track. For example, when there is a disagreement about how the other party members are conducting themselves, causing others to feel intimidated and frustrated. A conflict resolution could address the behaviour and take steps to repair relationships.
Similarly, two parties might find that their dispute requires negotiation. For example, the same party from the model above may find that the source of their conflict is the result of concerns about a project's timeline and increased pressure. By taking the time to negotiate the timescale, both sides can communicate and agree upon a fixed deadline that is acceptable to everyone. In short, negotiation and conflict resolution go hand in hand.
As it’s impossible to avoid disagreements altogether, utilising the following negotiation strategies can help retain focus on both parties’ primary goals and allow them to move past any obstacles in their path.
Active listening goes beyond hearing the words someone is saying and preparing your response. It requires you to think about and consider the other person’s intent, meaning and feelings to understand their goals, motivations and needs. Active listening involves:
- Being present in the discussion.
- Communicating that you are listening with verbal cues and eye contact.
- Noticing the other person’s body language and choice of vocabulary.
- Asking open-ended and reflective questions to clarify and encourage their responses.
- Paraphrasing their answer in your response.
- Focusing and thinking about what they are saying.
- Remaining open-minded and expressing empathy.
Everyone wants to feel heard in a conflict, and actively listening to the other party’s point of view can go a long way to repairing a relationship, resolving misunderstandings, and finding a solution, which is something that a negotiation skills course can gradually teach. Listening makes people feel valued, respected, and understood. It’s a critical life skill that everyone should learn, but few genuinely utilise.
Before any negotiation, you should have already established your BATNA, also known as the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Its purpose is to ensure you know where your boundary is and when it’s time to walk away. Whilst it’s essential that you know yours, it’s also important to understand the BATNA of the other party to resolve a conflict. Knowing where their boundary lies gives you a complete picture of the negotiation and allows you to make smarter compromises and collaborate fully.
Humans are inherently self-centred, and we are all guilty of focusing on our needs, motivations, and desires before considering anyone else’s. However, to resolve a conflict, we must override that instinct and try seeing it from the opposing party’s point of view.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s position and consider their experience. It requires you to think about what they might be feeling and thinking during a conflict, and to assess their values, wants and needs. We must remember that everyone has similarities and differences, and what you think is critical is not necessarily the same for them. For example, you might place a lot of value in agreeing on the overall cost of a service, whilst the other party might be more interested in the quality of the services included. By empathising with the other party, we can deepen our understanding of their reality, resolve conflict quickly and create mutually beneficial deals.
Everyone’s emotions get the better of them on occasion, especially when the situation is frustrating or upsetting. Whether the other party is rude or dismissive, taking steps to prevent your feelings from overwhelming you when experiencing conflict is critical. Strategies you could implement include the following:
- Know your triggers. Knowledge is power and refocusing your attention away from something or someone causing the emotion can be helpful in the moment.
- Take action by calling for a break, using mindfulness techniques and pausing before speaking.
- Remember to focus on the problems, not the person. Focus on what you can fix and find solutions to; avoiding personal attacks is crucial in a conflict.
- Seek support from colleagues and managers and ask their advice on how they would handle the situation or person.
By removing your emotions from the equation, you are putting yourself in a position of power because it focuses your attention on the source of the conflict and prevents them from influencing your response.
A conflict resolution's purpose is to find a solution so that negotiation can resume as efficiently as possible. Having an agenda with clear objectives allows you to do that, and these should be unbiased, achievable, and specific. Working towards clear goals prevents the discussion from becoming side-tracked and the real issue from becoming lost. Any objectives set need to be pre-planned ahead of time, fair and aimed at reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.
To resolve a conflict, you need to be able to identify the root issue. The best way to do this is to look at it objectively and for everyone to be accountable. To do this, you should carefully consider the words used. A problem should not be phrased as a personal attack on the other party because that only causes them to become defensive and, therefore, resistant to change. Ultimately these inform your objectives and help you understand the other negotiators' needs and return to familiar ground. If you would like to learn about about negotiation strategies from experts - visit our online negotiation course and kickstart your negotiation skills.