“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
—William Shedd

How to approach challenges in negotiation.
Dealing with conflict in negotiation is never easy and what causes the most difficulty is the inability for many to have a proactive approach - dealing with these differences, as they arise, particularly when businesses consider a change in commercial arrangements.

Because conflict can occur, in any negotiated agreement, what becomes the issue is how the individuals in this commercial relationship will deal with the impact of any conflict. What all negotiators need is a systematic approach; something that will allow some flexibility yet provides the opportunity to adequately manage the conflict and come to a workable agreement.

The following is five-step approach to deal with (or to anticipate) conflict in negotiation:

1. Preparation (anticipation of conflict)
Everyone understands that adequate preparation is essential but realistically how much time is actually spent preparing? The answer… not enough! The idea of the potential business opportunity (particularly if it is viewed as a bargain) can often be very tempting; however, avoid the emotion of the deal because this can sometimes take over common sense.

When an opportunity appears it is important that you take time to analyse whether this fits within your overall business strategy. Also be mindful of the additional strain this might have on your current business and whether this would place undue burden on your current business/focus. When preparing to negotiate have a clear understanding of how much this will cost (real and anticipated future cost), what is your walk away position and your “BATNA” (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and “WATNA” (worst alternative to a negotiated agreement) and how will you and your company benefit from this opportunity? By asking these and other tough questions it will help you to prepare/anticipate the conflict that might arise.

2. Opening the negotiation
With adequate preparation comes information and knowledge about what to expect from all sides - basically good preparation should reduce the number of surprises that you have to deal with. The opening is where parties who are considering a formal connection should really think about developing a good relationship (communicating and understanding) and beginning to establish trust, with their potential partner. Trust and communication are two key components, which can either make or break a working relationship and will have a direct impact on how conflict is handled.

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by Ranse Howell

Ranse Howell is the Mediator and Consultant for The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).