Conflict Management and Negotiation

Figure 1.1: Conflict management is useful in a variety of situations, including times when opinions and emotions run strong in group discussions.

Image by Cherrydeck via Unsplash.

What Is Conflict Management?

If we’re going to begin developing our understanding of what negotiation is, we’ll want to have a solid grasp of the foundational concepts upon which negotiation is built. For our purposes, this means equipping ourselves with definitions for conflict and conflict management, since negotiation is a more specific form of conflict management and its purpose is to navigate a conflict of interest in the manner that is most advantageous to the negotiator.

We can define conflict as a disagreement or contest that arises from two or more opposing or incompatible needs, motivations, wishes, drives, or demands.1 We can define management as the practice or process of handling, directing, organizing, and conducting things or people.2

With these two definitions in mind, conflict management is then the practice of handling, directing, organizing, and conducting a disagreement which results from two or more opposing or incompatible needs, motivations, wishes, drives, or demands.

Ultimately, the purpose of conflict management is to resolve conflicts in a manner that minimizes the negative outcomes and maximizes the positive outcomes for everyone involved.3 This will deliver the greatest possible benefit to the largest number of parties. Successful conflict management necessitates recognizing and handling disputes and conflicts of interest in a fair, evenhanded, and rational manner.

In any context, conflict management relies on effective and adept communication skills and problem-resolving abilities. In the context of a business environment or organizational setting, conflict management ought to aim for not only satisfying the disputing parties but also showing that conflict does not have to be inherently negative so long as both the people involved and others can learn as a group from the way that conflict has been managed. Being able to do this with any instance of conflict management will benefit the overall effectiveness and performance of those in the organization.

Why Is Conflict Management Important?

By nature, people are driven by their own individual motivations and desires and are influenced by their own inherent biases and perspectives.4 As a result, everyday life itself is rife with countless opportunities for the needs and objectives of people to be at odds, which inevitably leads to conflict.

Most of the time, when people want something that is limited or scarce, it can create conflict. This can partly explain the prevalence of conflict in the world. In fact, many studies have shown scarcity to be highly influential in determining the desirability of something or someone.5 Furthermore, the nature of conflict tends to evoke an immediate negative emotional response in anyone caught in it, mostly due to the possibility of not having one’s needs, motivations, wishes, drives, or demands met. This dynamic further complicates effective conflict management because negative emotional responses such as anger, sadness, or resentment can themselves both exacerbate existing conflicts and become additional conflicts in and of themselves.

Therefore, deepening your understanding of the nature of conflict and learning how it can be managed effectively will help you calm your own emotional response to a given conflict and approach it with greater objectivity.6 This in turn will afford you the opportunity to slow down and focus on the particulars of any given conflict, so that you can apply the right communication techniques to engage with the other party or parties in the most positive manner possible to reach a resolution. Having the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral toolset to improve the outcomes of conflicts will help you consistently reduce the overall risk of negative and undesirable occurrences, such as conflict escalation or lasting relationship damage. It will also help you develop more effective, innovative, and lasting solutions to current and potential sources of conflict, resulting in stronger partnerships in both work and interpersonal relationships.

Managing conflict is something that not everyone does well, and the ability to manage conflicts in this fashion consistently and confidently will give you a competitive market advantage in any field or industry.7 Having mastery of conflict management will prove to be an incredibly helpful skill when it comes to advocating for your interests and accomplishing your own goals and plans, as well as when it comes to assisting others in doing so for themselves. On a personal level, conflict management will help you avoid the unnecessary stress and breakdowns in communication that tend to come with something as emotionally charged as conflict while still being able to effectively strive for your desired outcomes. On a global scale, effective conflict management reduces discord and establishes agreement, which works in its own way toward making a more peaceful world.

What Is Negotiation?

Figure 1.2: Negotiation is the act of having a discussion or dialogue in order to settle a matter that is in dispute.

Image by Oleg Magni via Pexels.

Put most simply, negotiation is the act of having a discussion or dialogue in order to settle a matter that is in dispute.8 In this regard, it is a common form of conflict management or conflict resolution, and it is a fundamental way of advocating for your interests and trying to reach an agreement with others as to how you can get something that you want.

Negotiation is practiced through verbal or written communication. It typically takes the form of a back-and-forth until both parties have arrived at an arrangement that they mutually find suitable.9

Another way to think of negotiation is as an interactive conflict management process that becomes necessary when you cannot accomplish your objective single-handedly. This happens primarily when your objective involves the allocation or distribution of something in limited supply.

At this point, you ought to have a sense of how negotiation encompasses a wide array of situations and interactions across various contexts and settings. Therefore, having several working definitions for negotiation will better equip you to approach even unfamiliar or unconsidered scenarios from a negotiation framework. This will help you navigate said scenarios more successfully.

What Are the Benefits of Negotiation in Conflict Management?

A truly exhaustive account of all of the many benefits of conflict management would require more space and time than is available to us in this text. Here we will focus on some of the most immediate and significant benefits of conflict management, particularly in the context of work, commerce, and business.

Negotiation Leads to Increased Productivity and Goal Accomplishment

Since the goal of negotiation as a conflict management technique is the resolution of a dispute while delivering the most benefits possible to those involved, naturally, negotiation works toward people achieving their goals.10 Conflict can be time-consuming and stress-inducing, so the successful management of conflict will minimize these negative outcomes and in turn increase overall productivity. For example, a company that has established rigorous practices for conflict management will spend less time dealing with the fallout of unmanaged conflict; avoid additional conflict; and produce a more coherent, coordinated, and cooperative workforce. A culture of conflict management will nurture and facilitate a more open and innovative climate in which personalities and disagreements do not unnecessarily hinder new ideas, developments, and growth.

As a student of negotiation, you will develop an intuitive understanding of what impediments you may encounter and how to overcome them when it comes to achieving your own personal goals. This way you can accomplish more without becoming embroiled in unnecessary disputes. It will also make you a far more effective communicator in general, which will be useful to you in any field.

Negotiation Establishes and Enhances Relationships

While conflict itself can tend to entrench each person or party in their own needs or beliefs, the process of negotiation as a conflict management strategy can unite the persons or parties by acknowledging each other’s positions and encouraging problem-solving together. In this regard, negotiation can help individuals shift from an “I” mindset to a more empathetic and cooperative “we” mindset.11

Successful conflict management achieves a resolution between two or more disputing parties, which then helps to establish a relationship between these parties, even insofar as their commitment to maintaining this resolution. In this regard, conflict management even opens up the possibility of making constructive improvements in relationships and agreements. In the absence of proactive conflict management, there are only ever two possible outcomes: stagnancy or further breakdown. But when parties are able to work out their differences and reach compromises, the stage is set for further positive development in the long run.

Negotiation Drives Innovation

While most people consider conflict wholly negative or without positive value, this is only the case when it comes to conflict that goes unresolved or unmanaged. The truth is, the resolution of conflicting opinions in disputes can frequently reveal new, unconsidered perspectives. Conflict management requires the parties involved not only to express their own particular position and considerations but also to hear out the stance of the party with whom they are in conflict. This exercise encourages exactly the kind of open-mindedness and flexible thinking that can sometimes give rise to the best ideas. Many times, a truly imaginative solution can only come from the kind of discussion and resolution that conflict management necessitates.

Negotiation Mitigates Risk

On the flip side, the negative emotions that come with conflict can be potentially dangerous, as they can inspire hostility, vindictiveness, vandalism, and even crime. Therefore, conflict management is a form of insurance, as it means soothing any dissatisfaction or resentment before it is allowed to fester into something more damaging and permanent than sentiment. Although we have acknowledged that conflict is natural and a fact of life, that doesn’t make it any less unseemly. Diligent conflict management will help you to project a more positive public image, whether as an individual or as a company.

Negotiation and You

When it comes to why negotiation should matter to you, at the most fundamental level it boils down to the fact that understanding and developing the art of negotiation will make you more capable of advocating for yourself and your interests. Once you know how to enter conflicts and negotiate on your own behalf in order to achieve your desired outcome, you will be able to apply this skill on behalf of others, both for individuals and groups. Therefore, it is crucial to develop a holistic understanding of how negotiation works before diving into more specific techniques and tips for more successful negotiation. In the sections that follow, we will look closely at several theoretical frameworks that will help us focus on seeing negotiation as a process. We will also be able to foresee and understand several common challenges and barriers to successful negotiation.

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