Most people understand each other’s positions and often the interests of each other. The hang up can instead relate to other issues such as personalities, values, history and other elements not directly related to the conflict. In these types of conflicts, the desire for revenge, getting even and even hurting the other person can be stronger than the desire to resolve the issue. There are three things to consider in these types of negotiations. These are considering interests and values separately, engaging with each other to build a positive relationship and working to reconcile differences.
Consider interests and values separately
This can be hard, but every effort should be made to separate the person from the problem. The focus should be to be tough on the problem and gentle on the people. Some people are so angry it is very hard for them to do this. By focusing on building connecting relationships and actively listening to demonstrate true concern, empathy and understanding, it may be possible to make this happen. Once the relationship has been established focus on each individual issue one at a time.
Engage each other to build positive relationships
When two individuals are negatively impacted towards each other, it can be very hard for either of them to build a positive relationship with each other. Often a third-party building trust with both or with each the parties having a trusted person working with them can really help. This trusted person should be there to help them build positive relationships so that emotional interests can be addressed. Having a common interest can go a long way towards building understanding. Emphasis should be on building bridges for common understanding. Focusing on common values rather than changing beliefs is critical. By working with each other on common interests it may be possible to break down what seem to be insurmountable barriers.
The pain associated with what caused the underlying conflict needs to be addressed. However, given empathy, listening and understanding it may be possible to build trust. A third party can either promote understanding or fuel the fire towards revenge. Be careful on reaching out to other parties to help with the situation. Those promoting understanding can save emotional and physical toil, money and time. Those fueling the fires for revenge can promote anger and frustration taking up valuable resources including your money and your valuable time and energy.
Working to reconcile differences
Where there are differences it is important to spell them out and why there are these differences. When two parties are very angry with each other often they cannot see the other person’s perspective. Sometimes they can. Knowing this one party may simply want to be vindictive. An issue like this needs to be pointed out and addressed. When the issue is addressed head on it may be possible to create an opportunity where none could have been seen beforehand. This can lead to further understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. Unless this approach is tried, how else is it possible to know if it may work?
Does this always work?
No, this doesn’t always work, but at a minimum it can foster additional understanding. As each of the parties clarifies positions, interests and values, it may be possible to address issues in the future if not now. This can take a very long time. Look at South Africa and Ireland from a global perspective. In both of these instances, each party had to overcome long held beliefs and stereotypes. This was necessary to move on to reconciliation. Both sides experienced real pain. By being empathetic and working with each other to understand interests they were able to overcome real differences. It is messy. It is not easy. Perseverance, patience and understanding are key ingredients. One of the critical keys is helping the parties to listen to one another.
What about mediation?
Mediation is not about coming to a solution everyone likes. Rather it is all about developing a solution that the parties can live with. That is a mental shift away from winning and losing. We are hard wired to think of the world as black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. It takes a real strength of character to move off of this position and to move towards what can work for both parties.
On a local level, with neighborhood disputes, public housing issues, landlord tenant issues racially charged police shootings and similar issues the emotions are just as strong. Having worked in all of these areas, patience, building trust with the parties and listening are key. Pausing to paraphrase, summarize, empathize are key. Asking open ended questions of the parties so that they too can look at the issue more broadly helps. In the end it is up to the parties. It is their decision whether they want to work together to reconcile differences.
With the new year about to begin, consider those with whom you have had real differences of opinion and those that you know have real differences of opinion with others. Perhaps the ideas presented here can help you or could help them in the new year. Feel free to pass this on. May the new year bring you peace, health and hope.
To read more on this topic explore this article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation that was the inspiration for writing this blog.