Negotiation - The Means to Resolve Conflict

It appears that inter-group conflict is commonly solved through negotiation. Buelens et al. (2006, p. 503) describe the negotiation process as a “give-and-take decision-making process involving interdependent parties with different preferences”. Robbins and Judge (2013, p. 458) state that “negotiation permeates the interactions of almost everyone in groups and organizations”. They give the obvious examples as labour bargains with management and the less obvious ones with managers negotiating with employees, peers, and bosses, salespeople negotiate with customers and purchasing agents negotiate with suppliers. And additionally there is still the subtle examples, e.g. an employee agrees to cover for a colleague for a few minutes in exchange for some past or future benefit. In today’s loosely structured organizations, in which members work with colleagues over whom they have no direct authority and with whom they may not even share a common boss, negotiation skills become critical.

In today’s working environment negotiation becomes more and more important as more and more employees have the opportunities of being involved in decision-making processes affecting them and their work. Automatically with the increasing numbers of people involved the likeliness of disagreements about matters like wages, tasks and objectives, performance evaluations, job assignments, schedules and special privileges is increasing.

  • Two-party negotiation
  • Group negotiation
  • Inter-group negotiation
  • Constituency negotiation

Although in literature there are almost uncountable models for negotiation discussed there are two general approaches to negotiation (French, et al., 2015, pp. 371-372; Robbins & Judge, 2013, pp. 458-462): distributive negotiation and integrative negotiation.

Distributive Bargaining basically involves the typical “win-lose” scenario; the more one party gains, the more the other party loses. Robbins and Judge (2013, p. 458) picture a very good example in bargaining for a used car: “The owner tells you the asking price. You don’t want to pay that much. The two of you then negotiate. […] Every dollar you can get the seller to cut from the car’s price is a dollar you save, and every dollar more the seller can get from you comes at your expense.” So essentially each party gives up something of value in order to reach agreement.

Alternatively integrative bargaining seeks to achieve “win-win” outcomes. This strategy focuses on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the interests of the disputants. Interests include the needs, desires, concerns, and fears important to each side. They are the underlying reasons why people become involved in a conflict.

Although distributive bargaining is frequently seen as the opposite of integrative bargaining, the two are not mutually exclusive. Distributive bargaining plays a role in integrative bargaining, because ultimately "the pie" has to be split up. Integrative bargaining is a good way to make the pie (joint value) as large as it possibly can be, but ultimately the parties must distribute the value that was created through negotiation. They must agree on who gets what. The idea behind integrative bargaining is that this last step will not be difficult once the parties reach that stage. This is because the interest-based approach is supposed to help create a cooperative working relationship. Theoretically, the parties should know who wants what by the time they split the pie.

Third-Party Intervention

Where conflicting parties are unable or unwilling to resolve disputes themselves a third party may be used in an attempt to reach a conclusion and avoid the expensiveness and delay of a court case. Essentially there are six third-party intervention possibilities: facilitation, conciliation, peer review, ombudsman, mediation, and arbitration.

A facilitator may be a manager acting as a third party encouraging the parties to deal with each other constructively.

A conciliator is a trusted third party who provides an informal communication link between the negotiator and the opponent. Comparing conciliation to mediation in terms of effectiveness has proven difficult because the two overlap a great deal. In practice, conciliators typically act as more than mere communication conduits. They also engage in fact-finding, interpret messages, and persuade disputants to develop agreements.

Peer Review could be done by a panel of employees that hears both sides of the dispute and makes recommendations for a solution.

The ombudsman is someone who is highly trusted and works for the organisation, hears disputes in an informal and confidential meeting.

A mediator is a neutral third party who facilitates a negotiated solution by using reasoning and persuasion, suggesting alternatives, and the like.

An arbitrator is a third party with the authority to dictate an agreement. Arbitration can be voluntary (requested by the parties) or compulsory (forced on the parties by law or contract). The big plus of arbitration over mediation is that it always results in a settlement.