This article first appeared in Negotiation newsletter, published by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School(www.pon.harvard.edu)
Whether at work or at home, we've all had negotiations fall apart due to escalating frustration, threats and a general failure to communicate productively. Irritation lingers, souring further exchanges until the conflict reaches a head.
In most cases, it doesn't have to be this way. Before assuming that you and your counterpart are doomed to mutual distrust and dislike, try the following four strategies for coming together.
Strategy No. 1: Reclaim credibility.
When someone challenges your competence and credibility, the natural response is to go on the defensive, or lash out, or both. It's difficult to temper your emotions when the other side devalues your efforts and opinions. But if you rise to the bait, you'll be distracted from the important work of advocating for your interests and concerns, write Simmons School of Management professor Deborah Kolb and Judith Williams in their book "Everyday Negotiation: Navigating the Hidden Agendas in Bargaining" (Jossey-Bass, 2003).
In place of defensive moves and counterattacks, Kolb and Williams identify five "turns" you might use to better effect:
-- Interruption. Calling for a time-out can cool tempers and allow everyone to reflect on the situation.
-- Naming. Neutralize the other party's move by calling it as you see it. If a subordinate blames others for his subpar results during a performance review, you might respond by saying, "Criticizing your colleagues isn't the best way to build your case."
-- Questioning. To convey that a move seems unwarranted, respond with a question. For example, you might say to someone who presents a "take it or leave it" offer, "Why would you threaten to walk away when we've still got so many issues to explore?"
-- Correcting. You may need to reject the other party's framing of the situation outright. If someone accuses you of belittling his perspective, respond by saying, "On the contrary, I respect your opinion and would like to hear more about it."
-- Diverting. You can attempt to divert a move by shifting the focus to the problem at hand. "I think we're getting distracted by personality issues," you might say when tempers flare. "Let's try to get back on track."
Strategy No. 2: Explore the other side's perspective.
When someone approaches you with hostility, exploring his perspective may be the last thing you want to do. Yet taking the time to understand the source of someone's frustration is typically the best way to find common ground, according to Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern University, William W. Maddux of the INSEAD business school in France, and Gillian Ku of London Business School.
In particular, Galinsky and his colleagues advise you to consider three basic questions before and during a negotiation:
-- "What are her underlying interests, motivations and needs?" Examining the motives behind someone's behavior helps you identify creative solutions to shared dilemmas.
-- "How can she meet her needs elsewhere?" Might your fellow negotiator be able to find satisfaction from someone else? If so, you may need to improve your offer. If not, you've identified an untapped source of bargaining power.
-- "Why is she behaving this way?" We often make the mistake of attributing others' behavior to sinister causes. When you reflect on the full range of someone's possible motives, you may realize her intentions are, in fact, benevolent.
Strategy No. 3: Test your theory.
At the table, you can explore and modify your theories about the other party by listening actively. As Harvard Law School professor Robert C. Bordone observes in "Listen Up! Your Talks May Depend on It" ("Negotiation," May 2007), active listening requires three critical skills:
-- Paraphrasing. Restate what you heard your counterpart say as accurately as you can, resisting the urge to express your own opinions. Doing so gives the other party a chance to correct his message and ensures that you fully understand his point of view.
-- Inquiry. Ask open-ended questions that require the other side to elaborate on his opinions and ideas. This is especially important when someone's statements seem illogical or inconsistent with his behavior.
-- Acknowledgment. Listen for the emotions that underlie your counterpart's message and reflect back what he says. Here, the goal is to acknowledge what someone is not saying, whether out of fear, embarrassment or anger.
In his research, Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania has found that a sincere apology accompanied by a promise to do better in the future can be effective in rebuilding trust between negotiators.
Strategy No. 4: Advocate for your own interests.
Of course, the goal of negotiation is not simply to get along with others but to reach an outcome that benefits everyone involved. Once you better understand your counterpart's perspective, you'll find new opportunities to explore interests and advocate for your own needs. You can do this by resisting the temptation to escalate conflict and instead work on exploring the other side's perspective and advocating for your own needs.