Responding to conflict

Negotiation implies “conflict” – something that needs to be resolved, resulting in an outcome. The perception is that conflict is destructive and negative. It’s a fight, a challenge or an obstacle, often difficult to solve and even to be feared. Many people avoid conflict at all costs (and may set themselves up to be taken advantage of.) But conflict can also be constructive and productive.

Conflict is productive when it:

  • Creates or innovates
  • Gives an opportunity for growth
  • Is used to share information
  • Is used to resolve differences and bring clarity
  • Teaches us how to solve problems

In a negotiation, some conflict is inevitable. How you handle it is not.

  • Avoid feelings that the other person is wrong or needs to change
  • Communicate a desire to work together to find a solution
  • Exhibit behaviour that is spontaneous and not destructive
  • Empathy: identifies with partner’s problems, feelings and reactions
  • Treats partners with respect and trust
  • Investigates issues instead of taking sides

“Putting conflict management into practice” – Walker and Harris (1995)

Before the negotiation, think about your negotiating partner and anticipate conflict:

  • What are the possible objections to what you are asking?
  • How will you address those objections?
  • What are the alternatives you can offer?
  • If you get what you want, specifically how will your negotiating partner also benefit?

Put it in writing and keep it with you during the negotiation.