Art of Negotiation

In any environment with more than one person, there will always arise a situation in which the two people disagree. It could be as mundane as where to order lunch from, or as serious as whether or not to go forward with a billion dollar deal. Bring two people together, and a conflict will arise.

One of the questions often asked by new business owners is how to resolve such conflicts without creating a rift between the parties involved. The best time to look for the answer to this question is well before the situation arises, since many of the techniques used for resolving conflict are more difficult to apply once the situation has been muddied. As such, I will discuss here some basics for dealing with such scenarios, and would recommend that you look for a seminar for some further suggestions if you anticipate being involved in such scenarios often, or know that you have a hard time dealing with conflict.

The first piece of advice actually comes from the readings I did prior to getting married, and was stated very simply:

Always remember, especially when disagreeing, that you’re on the same side.

We have a tendency, when disagreeing with someone, to move into the mindset of you versus me. In marriage, and in business, it doesn’t work that way. All the people involved have the same goal, which is, to make the marriage or business succeed. The disagreement is about the means to getting that success, not about the success itself.

This brings us to the next point – stay on topic, and don’t get personal.

When a conflict moves off the original topic of discussion, and heads into the jungle of personal attacks, a pleasant ending rarely ensues, and it makes future conflicts more difficult to deal with. If you’re trying to reach a decision, you need to focus on what’s relevant to the issue, and the fact that John barely passed his accounting course isn’t relevant to whether or not the company can afford a particular expenditure today.

After the particular issue is resolved, if warranted, the background and side issues can be discussed. However, they have no place in resolving another conflict, and only serve to sidetrack you from the main issues.

The last point is possibly the most useful, but also, unfortunately, the most vague. To prepare for a potential future conflict, prepare a process to resolve a conflict.

Basically, if you head into a discussion knowing how you’re going to resolve it, then it makes the discussion that much more productive. Remember, we’re discussing resolving conflict with a particular other person, not with people in general.

One idea you might want to try works like this:

Agree beforehand who is considered to be the expert on a given set of subjects. For example, if you have a software business with two partners, one who handles marketing and advertising, the other handling development, you could easily split out technology issues and publicity issues.

Agree on an approach and guidelines for discussing issues. For example, you might agree that both parties get a chance to present their opinion, and then a chance to respond to the other persons opinion, with the length of the discussion agreed to at the beginning of the discussion.

At the end of the allotted time, if the subject is considered to fall under the expertise of one party exclusively, then they get to make that decision. If it is not an issue with which one party in particular is considered expert, then you take turns deciding.

Hopefully, with this information in mind, you can head into your next conflict knowing that you have the ability to resolve it amicably and smoothly, and move on to making your venture a success.