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.

Author: nakawashi9

International mediator, professor, corporate trainer!

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