Creative strategies in negotiations, pt. 2

Dear reader.

Good to see that you are coming back for more. And, as promised, the second part of my exploration of creative ways to unlock negotiations from being frozen. Here are a few more  innovative ways on how to deal with difficult parties, difficult topics, or difficult strategic decisions.

c) Change the realm in question

(1) switching from a political to a technical solution. A technical solution to a political problem can be sought. This is especially useful when dealing with issues around water ways, upstream and downstream issues, and general conflicts around water and environment.

(2) switching from a political to an economic solution. A free trade zone or agreement is the best way to address the issue.

(3) switching from the preconditions for negotiation to their implication. IF an adversary’s preconditions for negotiation are unacceptable to a party, that part or a mediator can get talks under way by arranging a meeting to examine the implications of the precondition. In smaller scale conflict, this can be done through caucus or shuttle diplomacy. On the international level, it is best to bring technical committees together in order to fashion the ground work for subsequent talks.

(4) conversion of intangible goals to tangible ones. As you may have heard on many occasions, it is never useful to negotiate intangibles, such as belief systems, values, ideologies or on the basis of religion. Sometimes the intangible can be changed to the tangible as when someone who has damaged another’s reputation agrees to make a monetary payment for the damage. This move may only be working in a few contexts.

d) Reveal new facts or meanings

(1) discovering the opponent’s domain of validity. Both Rapoport and Deutsch have debated this move. A possible step is for each side to find out on what grounds the other side could possibly be convinced of the truth of its own views. After one side has found out what views or pictures of reality its adversaries hold in their minds, they must try to discover the domain of validity of each such view. This is akin to be “putting yourself into someone else’s shoes’. However the range of cases where this move works is rather limited and bound to parties’s needs and preferred style to manage conflicts.

(2) the trollope ploy. One accepts an offer never clearly made. Based on perceived threats and benefits, leading a party to reject a second proposal for something that has never been proposed.

Strategy 3: Change up where things are involved

a) Integrate or assimilate

(1) formation of a security community, e.g. Regional Economic Communities, the European Union, Canadian-American Integration, the African Union.

(2) “if you can’t beat them, join them”, e.g. the way the American Congress works. Or how in- and outgroups in companies behave.

b) Disintegrate or separate – separation of the unacceptable, i.e. actions that would be unacceptable to the parties if done together can be done separately. Sometimes, joint commissions in resolving water management issues are not working precisely because of a lack of institutional knowledge and capacity on both sides of a river-basin. Yet, parties could start with their own capacity-building and still share information under a bilateral agreement.

Strategy 4: Vary when things are involved

a) Propose a resolution of a dispute early

(1) the insurance principle. This hints to the establishment of rules to deal with conflicts before the power relations and the winners and losers are known. Rawls states that justice defined as fairness is more likely to prevail this way because free and rational persons concerned to further their own interests would accept an initial position of equality as defining the fundamental terms of their association. The Law of the Sea conference in Caracas produced remarkable unity, at least among the nonaligned nations, probably in part because they did not know much about the distances from their shores at which the greatest resource deposits in the ocean bed can be found.

(2) minor powers’ concerted appeal to major powers’ best intentions. Before major powers with aggressive programs have proposed a resolution, a coalition of minor powers with a peaceful program can sponsor a resolution at the U.N. or elsewhere. Then the major powers may be inclined to support peaceful resolution, lest their image be damaged. Creativity may be sacrificed to peacefulness in this approach.

b) Postpone the resolution of a dispute while trying to build trust

(1) identification and ignoring of intractable issues. Difficult issues can be left for future negotiations, allowing settlement of common interests right away. This is a typical approach for a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA between the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan, leading to South Sudan’s secession and independence, didn’t deal with issues such as border or citizenship issues. This was left to subsequent implementation agreements.

(2) incremental change. Rather than defining objectives and then examining a range of possible options to fulfill them, an administrator or council can adopt a change that moves an organization forward by a small amount and avoids conflict because it is offensive to none of the constituencies. The assumption is that large changes would be too disruptive to the delicate balance of entrenched policies. Many of the U.N. actions are incremental, such as the progress of human rights in many steps.

(3) the seizing of opportunities to carry out secret policies. Top business operatives tend to tell no one their specific goals (contrary to what research on leadership suggests). They wait for opportunities to carry out those goals. Conflicts over these goals are thus minimized and acceptance of them is secured through careful selection of ripe opportunities – that is through support of actions by subordinates that move the organization toward the executive’s goals.

c) Postpone the resolution of a dispute while trying to build disgust of a cooling off of tension

(1) disgust-building. A dispute can be continued until one or both sides would rather liquidate it than gain a victory.

(2) holding action. Instead of responding militarily to a minor attack on or blockade of one’s territory, it can be fruitful simply to reinforce the territory and leave the initiative to the opponent to mount a full-scale attack on the territory – an attack the opponent may avoid. Not always conducive to peace.

d) Untie a double bind – simultaneous, interdependent actions, ie actions can be taken simultaneously that would otherwise not happen because each depends on the other’s having occurred.

End of part 2

Creative strategies in negotiations, pt. 1

Dear reader.

Good to have you back. This post is about creative strategies and approaches for resolving and settling conflicts. Based on my previous experiences during the Kampala Talks in 2013 and ceasefire negotiations with the Darfur Armed Movements, I have made use of a few approaches that fit to the context for widening the range of options perceived by closed-minded people before they walk out of a negotiation session or even turn to subsequent violence due to the frustrations perceived in a narrowly defined negotiation strategy.

And I am not alone in this understanding of creativity in negotiations. Kelman (1962, in: ‘Internationalizing military force’, in Q. Wright, W.M. Evan and M. Deutsch (ends) Preventing World War III. New York: Simon and Schuster: 106-122) pointed out that the significance of creative conflict resolution procedures is greater than may appear. When traditional negotiation breaks down, the number of ways still left to deal with the conflict remains almost inexhaustible, though not always achievable.

Six dimensions help categorizing the repertoire: (1) the parties (who); (2) the basis of the conflict (what); (3) the location (where); (4) the timing (when); (5) the nature of the involvement (how); (6) the causes (why). All approaches work in a range of contexts, from the international relations dimension to the interpersonal and inter organizational level of conflict.

Strategy 1: Change and vary who is involved

a) Unilaterally take an initiative, hoping to influence the adversary

(1) e.g. through one-sided de-escalation by a small amount and inviting the opponent(s) to follow suit. If the other side does so, further de-escalation can proceed. Especially useful when face-saving problems or the like prevent contenders from negotiating an agreement. Being competent in communication techniques and speech act are useful skills (also known as the GRIT approach: graduated reciprocation in tension-reduction).

(2) acceptable fait accompli, i.e. when the issue can be settled unilaterally in a way that accounts for everyone’s interests so no one opposes the settlement.

(3) tacit agreements: When negotiation is impossible, the parties to a dispute resolve it separately according to their perception of fairness;

(4) influencing an opponent’s choice of a negotiator by one’s own choice. when one party chooses a negotiator from the field and level of responsibility that can most readily resolve the dispute, other parties are likely to follow suit.

b) Call in a third party to help settle a dispute

(1) sophisticated mediation or good offices: a mediator serves as a communication link between contenders, improves their perceptions of each other, suggests solutions to the problem in dispute, and puts pressure on the contenders to agree. the chief mediator bears considerable responsibility for these agreements and he/she uses the entire gammut of mediation strategies to get the parties to agree (at times under pressure, at times under concessions). the mediator needs to be skilled and competent and able to play many roles at different stages of the process

(2) settlement plus arbitration: the parties to a dispute settle some issues, agree to arbitrate to others, and perhaps leave still some other issues wholly unresolved.

(3) final-offer arbitration. in making its binding decision in a dispute, an arbitration panel can announce that it will avoid compromising and instead will choose one party’s bid as is. this announcement inclines each party to try to come closer to a position outsiders would regards as fair than would appear to the other party(ies).

(4) control by a disinterested third party, i.e. temporary or permanent authority over part or all of a difficult issue can be given to a third party, with or without the power of removal by the original parties.

(5) a financier-imposed solution, e.g. by choosing who will receive loans and for what purposes, bankers can impose creative and peaceful solutions to the conflicts. this approach usually leads to imposed solutions with often exploitative and violent outcomes.

c) Change the parties involved

(1) ignoring an uncooperative contender, ie a group of negotiators can ignore a disruptive contender and proceed on their own, expecting the disrupter to settle down in order to avoid being left behind.

(2) accommodation due to the arrival of a common adversary, e.g animosity may be reduced and sharing increased if a common adversary is introduced (could the case of ISIS bring the US and the Assad regime in Syria to an aligned solution for the region?).

(3) out-of-character positioning; it is possible to bring to power a person (or a political party) holding so firm a position against the opponent that this partisan will not concede too much and that, therefore, domestic opinion will permit concessions.

(4) changing to higher echelons, i.e. the assumption can be made that the source of a conflict between parties comes from lower echelon officers on the other side. Upper echelon officers can take charge, scapegoat the lower officers, and then come to an agreement with the adversary.

(5) pinpointing cooperative officials. rather than expecting an entire adversary group to cooperate when one’s relations with it are bad, one can determine who within that group can do what is wanted and make an offer to that person or persons.

(6) coalition-building by scattered, peaceful forces, i.e. a coalition of scattered, peaceful, minor forces can be formed that will outweigh the power of organized, major, exploitative forces.

Strategy 2: Vary what is involved

a) Seek common interests in which to build

(1) superordinate goals: these are goals contenders can choose to pursue that include the original goals of both sides, that cannot be achieved without cooperation among contenders and that offer goal-satisfaction for all sides. in most cases, pursuing superordinate goals reduced hostilities when social contact had not.

(2) synergy, ie relationships can be exploited in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

(3) upgrading of common interests. sometimes, competitive interaction can have cooperative elements. pre-condition is that parties’ needs are satisfied and the space for fighting over scarce resources is clearly delineated and narrow enough.

(4) fractionation of conflict. the breaking up of disputes into elements that can be settled separately. one purpose of this approach is to settle agreeable parts of a dispute first in order to build trust for settling more difficult parts later. an alternative purpose is to identify those elements upon which agreement can be reached in order to salvage as much as possible from a diplomatic endeavor and conference (such as a ceasefire negotiation) that otherwise might break down with no results.

(5) potential agreement discussions. the parties discuss what could be agreed as a preface to attempting at an actual decision.

(6) functional analysis of disputes, i.e. third-party members help the contenders deal with the fundamental needs underlying a dispute rather than concentrating exclusively on the immediate, symptomatic manifestations of it. any dispute can be reduced to a conflict over material welfare, deserved status, power, and so on. frequently, alternate, more acceptable means can be found to serve these functions than the particular means the contenders were quarreling about in the first place. sometimes these alternate means are ones on which the disputants can cooperate.

(7) maintenance of high aspirations and a problem-solving stance, i.e. the highest joint utility comes from each side’s setting high aspirations, sticking to them fairly well, and working together to solve the problems at hand. this approach contrasts with low or loose aspirations which can result in excessive readiness to accept a compromise with lower joint utility. the approach also contrasts with the distributive approach, which seeks to gain more at the opponent’s expense.

(8) functionalism. common loyalties can be built through functional organization. functional organizations can rule on disputes that were formally dealt with politically or militarily.

b) Bring in subjects unrelated to the object of the dispute

(1) package deals in such a way that one sides gets the advantage in the current dispute, the other side gets the advantage in the outstanding agreement (but need to have guarantees for this approach).

(2) prelude goals. lesser, more easily attainable goals unrelated to the dispute can be pursued to form closer relations that will make it possible to achieve the larger goal later.

End of part 1.