Jim Holbrook, Clinical Professor, Understanding Negotiation to Make Divorce Mediation Count

Jim Holbrook, Clinical Professor, Understanding Negotiation to Make Divorce Mediation Count

Transforming Conflict Stories into Conversation
The point of effective performative negotiation is to transform the repetition of positions or conflict stories into a conversation which can lead to problem solving. Here are seven suggestions about how to do that:
1. Be Self-Aware — Be aware of your own behavior, emotions, and intentions; be aware of the other person’s behavior and emotions; and be aware of the nature of the other person’s responses in comparison to your intentions. Are you getting the response you intended? If not, change your choice of behavior and try again.
2. Use Self-Discipline and Self-Control — Discipline your word choices and control your expression of negative emotions.
3. Listen and Acknowledge — Choose to listen to and acknowledge that you understand the other person’s point of view (this does NOT mean you agree with it).
4. Engage in Conversational Turn-Taking — Commit to follow conversational ground rules, conventions, and protocols, so take turns talking and listening.
5. Shift the Time Focus — Ask questions and make statements that put the time focus on the present instead of the past (e.g., «If I did X, would you be willing to do Y?»)
6. Shift Agency — Use «I» and «We» declaratory statements instead of «You» accusatory statements.
7. Begin Problem Solving — Don’t worry or argue about who was right or wrong, or who is to blame. Diagnose what kind of negotiation situation is this, and begin trying to find a feasible way to solve the problem.

People in Conflict Create and Perform Conflict Stories’

1. Conflict stories are narratives (i.e., monologues) that are «performed» when parties in conflict, often as interpersonal confrontations colored by strong emotions.
2. Conflict stories are «true» expressions of the narrator’s perception of «reality.» They are not intended to be fair and balanced, accurate, or complete descriptions of the conflict.
3. Because the parties do not want to listen to, acknowledge, or affirm each other’s conflict stories, they continue to repeat them, over and over, often getting more upset and frustrated in the process.
4. Conflict stories cast the narrator as victim (or hero) and the other person as the wrongdoer. The narrator denies any wrongdoing and casts all blame on the other person.
5. Conflict stories attempt to conceal face-threatening facts, feelings, and identity issues. They also conceal the narrator’s contribution to the conflict and, instead, attempt to justify narrator’s behavior as blameless.
6. Conflict stories focus on the past (blaming), not on the present (problem solving) or the future (desiring). Conflict stories are told from the third-person position (e.g., «It’s your fault.»)

I See generally Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith., RESOLVING PERSONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL CONFLICT: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION AND FORGIVENESS (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).

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