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Turn Dispute into a Deal

Learn how your association can have the quality, respectful discussions necessary to speak with ‘one voice’ by using principled negotiation to turn the dispute into a deal.

This is the eleventh article in a series on collaboration and conflict resolution. Read the introduction to the entire series here.

The path to a unified, effective association that can advocate to the City with one voice has already been laid out in the previous articles. You must develop a conversational climate of respect where diverse views and strong opinions are welcome.

The only kind of conversation strong enough to hold diverse views with respect is a dialogue.Debate easily can slide into bruising argument that offends and pushes others out of the conversation. On particularly contentious issues, even a quality dialogue may not be enough to produce enough understanding, support, and acceptance to enable the Association to speak with ‘one voice.’ However, after dialogue, it may be possible to negotiate for enough support and acceptance that permits a credible message to others. This negotiation must develop an understanding of how to balance or reconcile different views and needs.

Typical bargaining over positions (what someone says they want) is a hit or miss approach reaching agreement. If often involves bluffing, posturing, threats, and deception. Even when it works reasonably well, if tends to produce a low-satisfaction compromise that everyone can live with, at best. When it doesn’t work well, this approach risks an impasse or the escalation of conflict.

A healthy neighborhood association requires positive, ongoing relationships. Principled negotiation is better than traditional bargaining for ongoing relationships because it minimizes the risks to future relationships. This form of constructive negotiation is more open and transparent. Rather than focusing on power and getting one’s way, the focus is on educating each other about the underlying ‘interests’ that each side seeks to satisfy in a possible agreement. These interests include what people value and what they need versus what they want. To uncover values and needs, ask “What is important to you?” or “Why does this matter so much to you?” This focus is like peeling an artichoke. You peel off what is on top to get to the ‘heart’ of importance.

The negotiation is ‘principled’ because each side is honest about its position (what you want) and is also honest about why you want it. Then each side must also be interested in and willing to learn what the other side’s position is and why she wants it.

Once both sides’ why is clear, then the discussion shifts to creatively develop options. The search for agreement to unify the association on the issue at hand looks for an option that satisfies the “why” at an acceptable level of satisfaction, attracting the broadest range of support.

There are 5 steps:

  1. Get to the ‘Table’- How do you get the right people together in the right place at the right time to have the right discussions?
  2. Understand the Issues - What is the problem neutrally stated as one or more issues that need to be addressed?
  3. Uncover the Interests - What really matters to each participant and other affected stakeholders?
  4. Generate Options - What possibilities can we identify or create to consider?
  5. Find Solutions (Durable Agreement) - What will each of us commit to do to resolve the issue(s) and move forward together?
"When it comes to success, there are no shortcuts." ~ Stephen R. Covey