Note: This blog post is compiled base on my training material in Negotiation and Conflict Management of United States Institute of Peace
Defining the Term “Negotiation”
Before discussing strategy in detail, it’s helpful to define several key concepts, including the term “negotiation” itself. Daniel Druckman notes that negotiation can be viewed in various ways: as a method of handling conflict, “a puzzle to be solved,” or a “bargaining game involving an exchange of concessions.”1
Communication process. Richard Shell defines negotiation in plain, uncomplicated language, calling it “a communication process that may take place whenever you want something from someone else or they want something from you.”2
Interests. Fred Ikle introduces the concept of interests in his definition, calling negotiation “a process in which explicit proposals are put forward” for the “realization of a common interest where conflicting interests are present.”3 This brings up the crucial point that your fundamental purpose as a negotiator is not necessarily to reach an agreement, but rather to protect or advance your interests, which may or may not be served by an agreement.
The distinction is critical. A savvy negotiator never forgets that the other side might have come to the table with no intention at all of reaching agreement. The offer to sit down might have simply been a ploy—to create appearances, silence critics, stall for time, divert attention, marshal forces, and/or create new facts on the ground. The offer to negotiate might have been genuine, but throughout the process the other side might not show any flexibility, or not enough flexibility for both sides to find a productive way forward, or not be able to implement it. Or an agreement might be signed, but the other side might simply choose not to implement it.
BATNA. Thus, a good negotiator must always be prepared for the possibility that the effort will not show positive results. Roger Fisher and William Ury have introduced the helpful term BATNA, which stands for best alternative to a negotiated agreement. BATNAs are the alternatives that both sides would take if they did not negotiate—or will take if the negotiation fails.
This concept is helpful in a number of ways. As Fisher and Ury state, “The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating”; therefore, your BATNA is “the standard against which any proposed agreement should be measured.”4
Therefore Negotiation is
- A process of communication …
- Aimed at achieving specific goals …
- Where parties in conflict undertake to work together to shape an outcome …
- That meets their interests better than their best alternatives.
In any environment of actual or potential conflict, finding common ground and building bridges can be difficult, risky tasks.
Fortunately, to help negotiators improve their chances of success, there is a substantial body of experience from which to draw. Since ancient times, diplomats and political philosophers have written extensively about negotiation. Since the latter half of the 20th century, the subject has been studied systematically by both academics and practitioners. Drawing on academic studies and practitioner experience, this course will focus on the techniques and skills of successful negotiation.
Some people appear to be born negotiators. Others don’t like negotiating and may even find the process intimidating. But you don’t have to have any kind of special gift to hold your own in a serious negotiation; negotiating techniques can be learned. It helps to realize that we all negotiate as part of our daily lives—at home with friends and family, at work with colleagues and supervisors, and in the marketplace with partners and competitors. Most of the principles that apply in these negotiations apply in every context at all levels.
The Curve of Conflict
In the conflict analysis course, we presented the Curve of Conflict,4 which shows how the use of force in violent conflict tends to rise and fall over time, how to recognize different phases of conflict, and how to characterize conflict management and peacebuilding efforts used in different phases.
In his book, Lund explains how the curve is derived: “The course of disputes that become violent conflicts is traced in relation to two dimensions: the intensity of conflict (the vertical axis) and the duration of conflict (the horizontal axis).” In his book, Lund explains how the curve is derived: “The course of disputes that become violent conflicts is traced in relation to two dimensions: the intensity of conflict (the vertical axis) and the duration of conflict (the horizontal axis).” course of actual conflicts can exhibit many different long and short life-history trajectories, thresholds, reversals, and durations. Even conflicts that have abated can re-escalate. Nevertheless, the model has heuristic value in allowing us to make certain useful distinctions among the conflict management interventions that relate to different levels of intensity.
The column on the left describes relations between parties to the dispute and is divided into various phases of peace or conflict, Durable Peace, Stable Peace, Unstable Peace, Crisis, and War—with lower intensity phases characterized by what Lund calls interactive, mutually accommodative behavior, such as debates and negotiations and higher intensity phases characterized by unilateral, coercive behavior, such as ultimatums, sanctions and physical force. The best way to understand the model is to take a close look at each of these phases.
Durable Peace is the first phase on the curve. As its name implies, durable peace is a lasting peace. Plotted over time, it is represented as a relatively long, flat line. Lund explains, Durable (or Warm) Peace involves a high level of reciprocity and cooperation, and the virtual absence of self-defense measures among parties, although it may include their military alliance against a common threat. A ‘positive peace’ prevails based on shared values, goals, and institutions (e.g. democratic political systems and rule of law), economic interdependence, and a sense of international community.
Even in a state of durable peace, disagreements will arise on any number of issues, but these disputes will be resolved through Peacetime Diplomacy or Politics, whose objectives include maintaining and strengthening stable relations and institutions.
The term Stable Peace describes a state of relations that is higher in its degree of tension than that of durable peace.
As Lund explains,
Stable (or Cold) Peace is a relationship of wary communication and limited cooperation (e.g. trade) within an overall context of basic order or national stability. Value or goal differences exist and no military cooperation is established, but disputes are generally worked out in nonviolent, more or less predictable ways. The prospect for war is low.
As in durable peace, the mechanism for resolving disputes is still termed Peacetime Diplomacy or Politics.
If disputes remain unresolved and tensions continue to rise, the conflict may over time enter a phase known as Unstable Peace.
Unstable Peace is a situation in which tension and suspicion among parties run high, but violence is either absent or only sporadic. A ‘negative peace’ prevails because although armed force is not deployed [or employed], the parties perceive one another as enemies and maintain deterrent military capabilities… A balance of power may discourage aggression, but crisis and war are still possible.
Initiatives taken to defuse tension during a period of unstable peace are termed
Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Prevention, whose objectives include reducing tensions, resolving disputes, defusing conflicts and heading off crises. If the efforts are successful, tensions will subside.
However, if preventive diplomacy and crisis prevention are not successful, tensions may continue to rise. Through various types of confrontation, relations may reach the phase of Crisis.
As Lund explains,
Crisis is tense confrontation between armed forces that are mobilized and ready to fight and may be engaged in threats and occasional low-level skirmishes but have not exerted any significant amount of force. The probability of the outbreak of war is high.
Initiatives taken to diffuse tension during a period of crisis are termed Crisis Diplomacy and Crisis Management, whose objectives include containing crises and stopping violent or coercive behavior.
If efforts at crisis diplomacy are not successful, there may be an outbreak of violence, and the conflict may enter the phase of War.
War is sustained fighting between organized armed forces. It may vary from low-intensity but continuing conflict or civil anarchy…to all-out ‘hot’ war. Once significant use of violence or armed force occurs, conflicts are very susceptible to entering a spiral of escalating violence. Each side feels increasingly justified to use violence because the other side is. So the threshold to armed conflict or war is especially important.
Efforts by outside parties at ending hostilities are known as Peacemaking or Conflict Management. If an agreement to end hostilities has been reached, such outside parties might then engage in Peace Enforcement or Conflict Mitigation.
If efforts at peacemaking and peace enforcement are successful, fighting will subside. There may be a cease-fire, which may help reduce tensions and move the relationship from a state of war back simply to a state of crisis. At this point, efforts to keep the conflict from re-escalating are typically called Peacekeeping and Conflict Termination. As the result of a settlement, the parties may begin the difficult processes of Conflict Resolution and Post-ConflictPeaceBuilding. Through such efforts, tensions can be reduced to a point where the relationship can be described as a stable peace or even a durable peace.
Negotiation is a principal tool used in conflict management and resolution. Negotiation can be used to prevent violence before it has taken hold (upward slope of the curve), to stop violence once it has begun (top of the curve), and to prevent its recurrence and create conditions for a lasting peace in the aftermath of violence (downward slope of the curve).
During conflict analysis, we get introduced to a framework to help dissect a conflict into fundamental component parts, including its actors, issues, root causes, scope, resources, relationships, and history of peacemaking efforts. Therefore, effective negotiation will depend on how effectively you surely analyzed a conflict.
It’s also useful to discuss what we mean by success in a negotiation. Success can be defined in several different ways.
Short term vs. long term.For example, some negotiations, particularly those over small stakes, may not require much time or preparation in order to be completed successfully. But other negotiations, including those aimed at political settlement, typically involve substantial detail. Pressure to produce results in the short term can prove counterproductive over the long term.