Rory Sutherland @ TED – Perspective is Everything

Rory Sutherland’s highly entertaining talk is a great reminder of the value of resolving a problem with a perceptual rather than a substantive solution. Through anecdotes ranging from the difference between pensioners and the young unemployed to making the wait for mass transit more bearable, Sutherland explores the power of resolving problems with psychological solutions. The talk is highly informative for negotiators and conflict managers, and it prompts us to remember that when perception is the problem, then perception can be the solution.

Rory Sutherland: Perspective is Everything

By |November 16th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) is a staple of the high-stakes world of crisis negotiation. The model’s applicability, however, is not limited to just hostage negotiations and suicide interventions. It is one of my favorite negotiation frameworks because of its diverse suitability to a variety of conflict settings, and it can be a highly useful model for negotiators working in business and organizational settings.1

The model’s intention is to outline a process for developing a relationship between a negotiator and his or her counterpart, which culminates with the negotiator influencing the decisions of the counterpart. The model has five stages that are to be completed in succession for the behavioral change to take place. For example, a negotiator must successfully listen (Stage 1) before he or she can express empathy (Stage 2). A brief description of each stage is below:

  1. Active Listening: The first step of the BCSM establishes the foundation for the ensuing steps and involves a collection of techniques aimed at establishing a relationship between the negotiators. Active Listening encourages conversation through the use of open ended questions, suggests negotiators paraphrase their understanding of the other side’s story, attempts to identify and confirm emotions expressed by the other side, and utilizes intentional pauses in the conversation for emphatic effect
  2. Empathy: The intent of the second step of the BCSM is for the negotiator to convey his or her empathy to the other side. Empathy suggests the negotiator has an understanding of the perceptions and feelings of the other side. This is an important aspect of furthering the relationship between the negotiator and the other side, and can be accomplished through a tone of voice that is genuine and conveys interest in and concern for the other side
  3. Rapport: The third step in the BCSM is established through the negotiator’s active listening and expression of empathy, which will lead to increased trust between the parties. The negotiator continues to build rapport through conversation that focuses on face saving for the other side, positive reframing of the situation, and exploring areas of common ground
  4. Influence: Once rapport has been firmly established, the negotiator is in a position to begin to make suggestions to the other side, explore potential and realistic solutions to the conflict, and consider the likely alternatives available to the other side
  5. Behavioral Change: The final step in the BCSM is contingent upon how thoroughly and prudently the negotiator walked up the first four steps. If the negotiator has established a solid relationship with the other side, he or she will be able to propose solutions to the conflict that will affect the desired behavioral change

The negotiator working to resolve conflicts in a business or organizational conflict will benefit from utilizing the BCSM process. Though the stakes of business negotiations are usually not as high as that of a hostage negotiation, the psychological basis for diffusing conflict are related between the two contexts. The manager who is negotiating with a frustrated employee or client will be well served by walking with his or her counterpart up the “Behavioral Change Stairway.”



  1. Gregory M. Vecchia, Vincent B. Van Hasseltb, and Stephen J. Romanoc, “Crisis (hostage) negotiation: current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 10 (2005)
By |October 26th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

“Reactive Devaluation: In Theory & Practice” @ ACR 2014

Today I have the great privilege to speak at the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Annual Conference! A summary of my presentation and a link to the presentation handout is below.

Summary: Reactive devaluation proves a vexing problem for those working to resolve commercial disputes. Finding methods to cope with this automatic, unconscious psychological phenomenon is essential for mediators and negotiators practicing in business settings. Understanding why parties reactively devalue the offers, concessions, and proposals of the other side and how to effectively manage the inevitable occurrence of this phenomenon greatly strengthens the mediator’s ability to assist disputing parties. The presentation will explore reactive devaluation in theory as well as outline practical techniques for managing reactive devaluation during the dispute resolution process.

Click here to open or download the handout.

By |October 9th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Your Interests in a Negotiation

In a negotiation, your interests are the “needs, desires, concerns, and fears,” that led you to the bargaining table. As Ury and Fisher point out in Getting to Yes, interests are what drive us to negotiate, and focusing on the multiple interests each side brings to the negotiation is a key element in reaching a wise agreement.1

The importance of interests is a well-documented subject, but what practices can we utilize to help us explore the interests at stake as we prepare to negotiate? The more thoroughly we understand our own interests and consider the possible interests of the other side, the better suited we are to find an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.

Below are a few ideas for exploring interests that come from Getting to Yes and the Creative Conflict Wisdom blog.2

“Why?” and “Why Not?” These are the two essential questions for considering the interests at play in the negotiation. Asking ourselves why we and the other side are seeking a particular outcome from the negotiation is necessary to begin to understand the interests at play. It can also be helpful to ask ourselves or the other side why a particular solution would not effectively resolve the conflict. We can also explore interests more fully using the root cause analysis skill of repeatedly asking why. For example, if we are negotiating a real estate transaction, we would start by asking why we want to sell the property. If we are selling the property because we need the money, we would then ask why we need the money. We would continue to ask why of the answer to the previous question until we have explored the depth of our or the other side’s interests. Developing a deep understanding of our interests gives us more information to consider when we begin to think of options for settling the dispute.

“What is my goal in this situation?” Another way to explore our interests and those of the other side is to consider the goals we (or they) would like to accomplish in the situation. Asking questions like “What will a successful agreement mean for my short, mid, and long term ambitions?” and “Why is this agreement necessary to achieve my goals?” helps to clarify your interests in the negotiation. Carefully considering where we would like to go helps us to understand what is important about getting there and lays the groundwork for finding the best options to reach the desired goal.

“What am I afraid may happen in this situation?” Negotiations produce anxiety for many of us, not only because of the potential for a tense social interaction, but because the outcome of the negotiation is not entirely under our control. The fear of not getting something we want or need or potentially losing something we value is a powerful driver of our behavior in the interaction. Exploring what concerns are motivating us and the other side before negotiating can go a long way to clarify what is import to us about the negotiation but also help to consider or alternatives to a negotiated agreement.

“What will make me feel appreciated and respected?” Finally, considering basic psychological concerns like the need for respect and appreciation can help us understand our interests as well as the other side’s. The need for respect and appreciation is an inherent part of the human experience. Considering our own wants, needs, and ambitions surrounding these basic psychological motivations as well as the other side’s allows us to better understand which options will meet the inevitable human drives that are present in the negotiation.

Understanding your and the other side’s interests aids you in being a more agile, creative, and focused negotiator. By using some or all of the practices described, you will be thoroughly prepared to reach your goals by focusing on what matters most.



  1. Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin Books: 2011)
  2. “Mapping Your Interests in Conflict, Collaboration or Internal Dilemmas,” Creative Conflict Wisdom’s Blog, Last Modified February 10, 2014,
By |October 5th, 2014|Negotiation|0 Comments

Human Energy and Conflict

I recently heard Laura Scott – a Tampa-based coach, author, and speaker – give a talk on the topic of “energy management,” which is her term for managing our energy, state-of-being, or presence of mind. During her talk, she answered three basic questions.1

What is human energy?

Laura described our state-of-being as having an either catabolic (harmful) energy or anabolic (healing) energy at any given moment in time. Catabolic energy is pessimistic, destructive, and is associated with negative emotional states like anger, worry, apathy, and powerlessness. Anabolic energy, on the other hand, is optimistic, creative, and is associated with positive emotional states like empathy, joy, and peace.

From moment to moment and situation to situation, our energy arises from our perception and is expressed through the language we use. By paying attention to linguistic cues, we can read the energy state of ourselves and others.

Different expressions of language create different feelings in the recipients of the communication. For a rather obvious example, visualize someone telling you they love you, and then visualize someone telling you they hate you— the different expressions of language incite different states of energy within you.

Why is human energy it important to conflict management?

Laura’s perspective is that, while conflict management skills are essential for effective conflict interventions, the energy of the practitioner is equally, if not more, important to the success of an intervention. As she put it, “Conflict intervention has less to do with what you are doing and more to do with who you are being [in the moment].”

The topic of human energy is import to practitioners because we are the anchors of the intervention, be it a negotiation, mediation, facilitated meeting, or coaching session. The energy we bring into those settings and the way we respond to the energy of others is critical to how effectively the problems at hand are addressed. When we stay fresh, focused, and positive during an intervention, we provide leadership to the disputants by modeling energy that is more likely to yield a successful outcome.

What can we do to manage our own energy?

Managing human energy is about maintaining equanimity, or evenness of mind, moment by moment. Laura provided several tips for managing energy:

  1. Always “exploit the opportunity that exists in the now to choose peace and happiness and become more intentional and masterful about who you are and what you choose to create.” Laura stressed that recognizing we have the power to choose our state of mind/being is essential to cultivating positive energy. She also noted that being aware of how catabolic energy manifests in our body is a good first step in being able to actively choose our energy. The second step is to label the emotion that is arising, then ask what you would like to do about it or how you would like to be in the moment
  2. Create space for healing energy by being un-phased by the negative energy surrounding us during an intervention – a task which is difficult to do but powerfully models the behavior and state of mind needed to resolve the differences at the heart of the conflict. This can be accomplished, at least in part, by setting high expectations about how you are going to be present in a situation
  3. Let go of judgment of yourself and others, and be the dispassionate observer of the dynamics of the room. This happens by monitoring your feelings, labeling the judgment or feeling, and analyzing that state of being through introspective questions. Non-judgment of oneself is key to maintaining energy conducive to helping others

Laura also provided so introspective questions to help with the process of analyzing our energy.

  • What am I feeling? What label belongs on that feeling?
  • Does this feeling serve me at this moment?
  • What do I want to feel right now?
  • I am feeling _________, what is happening here?
  • How do I want to show up in this situation? What choices are available to me?
  • How would my highest self choose to respond (or show up) to the feeling of _________ right now?
  • Do I want to be the stone in the river or the water that flows around it? What attachments have I cultivated?



  1. Laura S. Scott, “Energy Management and Conflict,” Teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution Workplace Section’s Conflict Coaching Committee, Hosted on August 15, 2014.
By |September 14th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Problem Solving for One: A Brief Synopsis

I was recently exposed to a conflict management process that I had never heard of before – Problem Solving for One (PS1). PS1 was developed by Alan Tidwell and his students at Macquarie University for use in conflicts in which only one party is willing to engage in an ADR process. PS1 can be used to help one party in a conflict determine a strategy to address or, at the least, “reduce the negative consequences” of a conflict. Since the process was developed in 1993, it has been used in different sectors in Australia and the United States from family counseling to departments within the US government.1

In a recent talk, Tidwell noted that PS1 is adaptable, transferable, and portable.2 The process is adaptable because it can easily be modified to suit a variety of context-specific purposes, ranging from family to workplace related issues. PS1 is transferable because it is practical and is easily understood by the participating party. Finally, the process is portable because it results in the party having a written conflict management plan they can use for reference when addressing their conflict.

The PS1 process is executed by a facilitator working with the party. According to Tidwell, PS1 has four central elements: conflict analysis, generation of options, communication strategy development, and creation of a conflict management plan.

Conflict Analysis: The PS1 process begins with the party describing the conflict situation and is followed by a more reflective analysis of the conflict, focusing on the perspectives of all parties involved. Regardless of how the analysis is completed (casually or methodically), it should result in specific problem statements that describe the discrete issues created by the conflict.

Generation of Options: Options are generated for each issue in contention. The facilitator helps the party brainstorm ideas through direct participation in the brainstorming process or by asking questions that provoke idea generation. Once options are generated to address the issues, the facilitator works with the party to understand the costs and benefits of each option. The goal is for the party to reflect critically on how each option would affect all parties involved in the conflict in order to determine which option is most suitable for addressing the conflict.

Communication Strategy Development: After the party has selected the most appropriate option(s) for addressing the conflict, they work with the facilitator to develop a communication strategy, but only if the party intends to directly communicate with the other person involved in the conflict. Here, the facilitator listens to what messages the party intends to communicate, how the party intends to communicate those messages, and what risks are involved in communicating with the other side. The facilitator can also role-play with the party, or just have the party talk through what they would like to communicate. Helping the party to develop the communication strategy enables the facilitator to provide constructive feedback about the messages or strategy to further aid the party in refining their strategy before execution.

Conflict Management Plan: After the facilitator and the party have completed the analysis, options generation, and communication strategy, they will have the raw elements for a conflict management plan. The final product of the PS1 process is a plan that is “an outline for future action, designed to decrease the negative aspects of a given conflict.” The facilitator can help the party map out the next action steps for dealing with the conflict, which will constitute the conflict management plan.

PS1 can be used in a variety of settings from workplaces to schools to retirement communities and is flexible enough to help parties deal with a variety of different disputes.



  1. Alan Tidwell, “Problem Solving for One,” Management Development Forum, Vol. 1 (1998),
  2. Alan Tidwell, “Problem Solving for One: What it is, How it is Used, and How it is being Adapted,” Teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution Workplace Section’s Conflict Coaching Committee, Hosted on July 15, 2014.


By |August 24th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Negotiation & Trust

Trust is essential for creating a wise agreement. As Gary Furlong notes in The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, “One of the core issues in conflict resolution between parties is the issue of trust.” He goes on to state that trust is a “key resource in the conflict management process.”1 Without the appropriate degree of trust, parties’ hostile view of their relationship often leads to impasse.  However, with enough trust, parties can often find accord on even the most difficult issues. As trust plays a crucial role in the negotiation process, I wanted to outline a theory concerning levels or sources of trust and ideas for building trust while negotiating.

Trust Defined

Before outlining the theory, it will be helpful to define trust. Furlong defines trust as “having positive expectations about another’s motives and intentions towards us where potential risks are involved.” Another similar but more academic definition notes that trust is “the willingness of one party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.”2 Both definitions highlight that trust involves the willingness to engage in an uncertain situation that involves exposure to risk.

Levels of Trust

In Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Conflict Diagnosis Approach, Laurie Coltri describes the three commonly cited levels of trust. The levels of trust described by this theory can be conceived of both as distinct sources of trust as well as progressive levels of trust that are attained over time through repeated interaction.3

Calculus-Based Trust: Trust that is based on consequences of compliance or noncompliance imposed within a given interaction. For example, calculus-based trust can lead parties involved in a violent political struggle to the negotiation table if they know that undesired violence will continue in the absence of a negotiated settlement.

Knowledge-Based Trust: Trust based on knowledge of the other person. Coltri states that knowledge-based trust requires “understanding, the other person’s habits, traits, attitudes, principles, and values” and is established “on knowing the other person well enough to acquire the relevant knowledge.” Following the previous example, the parties engaged in violent struggle will establish this level of trust from previous knowledge and experience with one another or through the process of negotiating an end to the struggle.

Identification-Based Trust: Trust based on one person’s identification with another. Identification-based trust is the highest level of trust and stems from individuals seeing “themselves as being ‘as one’ in their goals, values, and needs.” Because this level of trust is difficult to establish, it is unlikely that the parties in our example would establish this level of trust without years of work towards reconciliation.

Building Trust

Successfully negotiating agreement often requires the establishment of a degree of trust. One approach to this task is the use of Furlong’s Triangle of Satisfaction model as a framework for addressing the interests of the other party as a means to build trust. The Triangle of Satisfaction model represents the three types of interests parties have in a negotiation: substantive, procedural, and psychological.

When negotiating with a party where trust is low or absent, open the negotiation with a discussion of the process itself. Discuss an agenda for the negotiation, methods for devising proposals, and ways to determine the fairness of an agreement. You can also talk about ways of communicating throughout the negotiation, who needs to be involved to reach a commitment, and potential risks and contingencies related to the negotiation. This approach allows for a “warm up” negotiation before substantive matters are discussed and creates the opportunity for you to demonstrate a genuine interest in the other side’s perspective. This activity will deepen the other side’s knowledge-based trust in you as a negotiator.

Continuing to build trust through addressing the psychological and substantive interests of the other side follows naturally from collaboratively discussing the process. These two types of interests will be addressed using the same skills. The first step to building trust is through actively listening to the other side’s substantive concerns. Asking open ended questions, exploring the needs, ambitions, and concerns behind the stated issues, and ensuring they have an uninterrupted opportunity to share their perspective.

The second step is to communicate to the other side that you not only have listened but that you understand what they want and why it is important to them. This can be accomplished through periodically summarizing what they have told you throughout the conversation or through summarizing what you learned once they feel they have communicated their perspective in full.

Finally, once you have both shared your perspectives, encourage them to help you find a solution that will meet both of your interests. This can be accomplished through brainstorming, soliciting their advice on how you could best resolve the matter, or developing a plan of action to find and further discuss possibilities for resolving the conflict. All three steps build trust by addressing the other side’s psychological interests of being heard and being involved in devising the final agreement. These steps also address their substantive issues by creating an opportunity to discuss those interests and finding a mutually acceptable solution.

Trust is a key element of a negotiated agreement. Without it, finding agreement will be difficult, if not impossible. In some cases, it will be necessary to build trust with the other side as you negotiate, and in those cases, focusing on their substantive, procedural, and psychological interests will aid in building the trust needed for agreement.


Works Referenced

  1. Gary T. Furlong, The Conflict Resolution Toolbox (Wiley 2005)
  2. Arnaud Stimec and Jean Poitras in “Building Trust with Parties: Are Mediators Overdoing It?” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 26 (Spring 2009).
  3. Laurie S. Coltri, Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Conflict Diagnosis Approach (Prentice Hall: 2009)
By |August 3rd, 2014|Negotiation|0 Comments

The Essence of Negotiation

I have recently given thought to the essence of negotiation. What are the essential goals we as negotiators are trying to accomplish when addressing conflict? Not the goals we are trying to accomplish in a specific negotiation, but the meta-goals we are trying to accomplish in every negotiation. Through consideration of this question, three concepts emerged as the spirit of intent for my negotiation practice. For me, these concepts act as the lighthouse amidst the stormy sea of conflict, and when achieved, allow for contentious situations to be transformed.

Shared Understanding

My first goal is to achieve a degree of shared understanding of the perceptions and problems in contention. This means looking backwards to the past to better understand the causes and conditions that gave rise to the conflict. The depth to which shared understanding is needed to make progress depends on the volume and complexity of substantive and relational interests at stake. When a multitude of issues and interests are in contention, a deeper level of shared understanding is required to make progress.

Achieving this goal often entails being the first to listen to the other side and demonstrating a genuine interest in their perception of the problem. Modeling this behavior generally sets the tone for shared understanding. Actively listening and asking clarifying questions eases a party’s frustration, increases their willingness to reciprocate, and halts or slows the escalation of the dispute. This is, of course, deceptively simple and requires self-discipline to effectively facilitate shared understanding with someone who may be seen (at least situationally) as an adversary. However, without this foundation, it is difficult to shift towards future-focused, problem-solving conversations which address the substantive issues of the conflict.

Pivotal Action

My second goal is to achieve pivotal action. Once the foundation of shared understanding is established, the conversation can transition into a discussion of which actions can be taken to resolve the differences at hand. This ambition focuses on changing the paradigm of the conflict in the present moment, and I am purposively making the distinction of action opposed to the idea of agreement. This is conceptually important because conflicts are managed or resolved through action. Writing a check, making a restorative amends, or drafting a protocol for future interactions between countries are all actions that precipitate other actions that move parties’ to resolution. In the end, negotiated agreements are about which actions will be taken to address the existing differences. The subtle shift from agreement-seeking to action-seeking helps to frame the conversation on two important assumptions. First, that the conflict can be resolved through a series of positive actions, and second, that the conflict will be resolved. In this way, I strive to use language that frames the negotiation optimistically as a realistic path to resolution.

Pivotal actions typically come from creative conversations centrally focused on devising, strengthening, and selecting the best ideas to act upon. Creative conversations consist of three elements. First, all ideas are to be conceptually treated as possibilities. This perspective allows for unrestricted thinking while not committing either party to a specific idea. This possibility perspective, if you will, often helps to further clarify interests and strengthen shared understanding. The second element entails jointly exploring what makes each possibility fair from the perspective of the parties, relying on objective standards when needed. This establishes the basis for determining which pivotal action will best meet the interests of all involved. Finally, posing actionable scenarios and fair standards through “what if” questions energizes creative, action-oriented thinking while respecting everyone’s autonomy.

Sustained Progress

My third goal is to establish a pattern of sustained progress, both within and after the negotiation. Sustained progress is future-focused and naturally flows from a foundation of shared understanding and conversations aimed at generating pivotal action. Sustained progress is demonstrated during the negotiation as the parties shift the dynamic of their interactions in a constructive direction. It also guides negotiators towards the best pivotal action for resolving the conflict by asking – what actions can be taken that will create a lasting resolution? The goal is to shift the relational dynamics within the negotiation enough to make progress while determining which actions will be sustainable into the future.

The form that sustained progress assumes is variable and does not mean parties will become reconciled to one another. In fact, sustained progress may mean the parties desist from communicating in the future. However, if the parties have an on-going relationship, sustained progress will mean they are well positioned to engage in those negotiations from an improved relational paradigm. In this sense, sustained progress means that parties’ joint understanding and action lead them along a path where they are unlikely to relapse into the same (or a similar) conflict.

These three concepts allow the negotiators to strive towards what is essential to reach and implement and agreement. By using these concepts as a navigational goal, negotiators are more likely to meet their and the other side’s interests in the negotiation.

By |July 13th, 2014|Negotiation|0 Comments

Meeting Facilitation: Notes from an Expert

I recently attended an excellent teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Workplace Section.1 The seminar was led by Rita Callahan, a New York-based Facilitator and Organizational Consultant, who shared some wisdom from her nineteen years of experience working in the field. The following are my notes from the call.2

Rita first clarified the difference between facilitative mediation and facilitation, a topic germane to her audience of mediators. She defined facilitative mediation as an activity involving a mediator, a conflict, and a pre-existing process. The mediator utilizes the pre-existing process to assist the conflicting parties in finding a mutually acceptable agreement, listening, and questioning the parties about their interests, options, and alternatives. As an example, she provided a six step mediation process to consider:

  1. Mediator’s Opening Statement
  2. Parties’ Opening Statements
  3. Joint Discussion
  4. Caucusing
  5. Continued Discussion
  6. Agreement Writing

The key distinctions between facilitation and facilitative mediation are the existence of a conflict, which is true in mediation but not necessarily so in facilitation, and the utilization of a pre-existing mediation process.

Facilitation, as a Rita noted, is a term often used but lacking in clear definition. She noted that, in general, facilitation is any activity that makes a task easier for others, and then she further clarified facilitation by listing the following characteristics:

  • Facilitation can be used in business and organizational settings for strategic planning, team building, action planning, retreats, and other purposes
  • Facilitation ensures the design and running of successful meetings
  • Facilitation helps participants to understand common objectives and how to achieve them
  • Facilitated meetings are lead by a neutral party who is impartial to the people and content of the meetings and who structures the process for the group to achieve its purpose
  • There may or may not be conflict involved in a facilitated meeting
  • The facilitator is responsible for the design and execution of the process

Rita then noted some of the core competencies that facilitators should possess, citing the International Association of Facilitators’ core competencies. The facilitator should be able to:

  • Design a meeting process so that the attending group can achieve its purpose
  • Guide groups to appropriate and useful outcomes by building group consensus for decision-making
  • Model professional behavior, honor diversity, manage group conflict, and evoke group creativity
  • Trust the group’s potential to solve their problem by maintaining neutrality
  • Remain focused on the job of developing and executing processes that help the group meet their objectives

Finally, Rita provided specific guidance on useful techniques for designing and facilitating meetings.

Preparation: Solid preparation and planning followed by effective execution of the plan is essential for successful facilitation. Effective preparation helps to prevent conflict in the meeting and enables the group to efficiently meet their goal. Rita said she uses a 4:1 ratio of preparation time to meeting time. For every hour she will be facilitating a meeting, she spends four preparing.

Agenda: When preparing to facilitate, it is critical to have an agenda and to allow the participants to comment on the agenda prior to each meeting. If an issue arises during a meeting that would alter the agenda, the facilitator should ask the group if they want to modify the agenda. Rita noted the importance of seeking the group’s permission to modify the agenda because it is their agenda, their meeting, and their goals – not the facilitator’s.

Personal Connections: In every meeting, there should be a connection point for every person in the room. Even if the participants already know one another or the time spent on making the connection is short, it is an important aspect of the process. For example, have each participant introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting by answering a question, which can but does not have to be related to the substantive issue(s) of the meeting.

Agreements (Ground Rules): Rita used the term “agreements” in the place of “ground rules” (perhaps because it sounds more forbearing than ground rules). She noted that every meeting should have agreements that are brainstormed within the group and agreed upon by the group. The agreements are guidelines for how the participants will interact with each other during the meeting. Rita said that “respect” is a common example of a suggested agreement, and she then used that as an example of a brainstormed idea that could be clarified by the facilitator exploring what “respect” means to the group. The agreements are another measure that helps prevent and address conflict within the group. If the meeting recurs, review agreements with the group before beginning each meeting.

Engaging Participants: When addressing participant engagement, use processes that fit the group’s need for engagement. For example, if a group is identifying open issues that need to be discussed but there is a lack of engagement, have each participant write their top three issues on Post-it notes and then hang the notes on the wall. Another idea for addressing a similar problem would be to move participants into small groups to discuss and share ideas about issues, then prioritize their list of issues. These techniques help break the engagement dilemma while collectively moving the group towards their objectives before bringing ideas back to larger group. The small groups or Post-it note processes help those who may feel uncomfortable in the larger group setting to engage the process.


Sources & Notes

  1. Rita Callahan, “Facilitation: In-Person and Virtual,” Teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution Workplace Section, Hosted on April 23, 2014.
  2. This post provides a synopsis of Rita Callahan’s presentation in my own words. This is the information that I heard, not necessarily what she said or meant.

By |June 22nd, 2014|Facilitation|0 Comments

Mixed Motives in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Imagine this: you and an acquaintance, Thomas, went out for drinks last night, and this morning, you wake up in an isolated jail cell with no recollection of what happened. This is obviously disturbing, as you care deeply about your personal freedom. Shortly after waking, the cell door opens, and a criminal prosecutor walks in and informs you that you and Thomas robbed a string of liquor stores last night. He then offers you the following options:

  1. You can confess to all crimes, and if your accomplice remains silent, I will drop the charges against you in exchange for your testimony. Bottom line, you will go free and your accomplice will do 20 years in the state penitentiary
  2. You can remain silent, but if your accomplice confesses, I will drop the charges against him in exchange for his testimony. Bottom line, he will go free and you will do 20 years in the state penitentiary
  3. If you both confess, both of you will do 16 years in the state penitentiary
  4. If you both remain silent, I can only get you on weapons charges and you will both do 2 years in the state penitentiary

He then informs you that he has made the same offer to Thomas, tells you that you have 15 minutes to decide, and walks out of the cell. What do you do?1

This game is known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” and among other things, it illustrates the divergent motives present in negotiation. Should one compete, striving to get what one wants at the expense of another? Or should one cooperate, striving to maximize the final deal for all parties involved? Negotiation theorists refer to this conundrum as “Mixed Motive Negotiation.” In most negotiations, the parties involved have to address and reconcile the divergent motivations of competition and cooperation. Most often, the question is not which of the two motivations to follow, but how to balance the motivations in the dynamic interpersonal exchange of negotiation. Negotiators are advised to create value (cooperate) with the other side before claiming value. This usually involves balancing integrative and distributive negotiation strategies within a single negotiation.2

Ury, Fisher, and Patton address a similar subject in Getting to Yes. They describe the “hard” and “soft” strategies used to negotiate. Hard bargaining takes an adversarial, goal oriented, and distrusting approach to negotiation where demands, threats, bluffing, and pressure tactics are applied to attain an outcome aligned with the hard bargainers’ expressed positions. Soft bargaining, on the other hand, is characterized by trust, high concern for the negotiators’ relationship, easily making concessions, transparency, avoidance of adversarial exchanges, and easily changing one’s position to accommodate agreement. It is not difficult to see the limitations of each approach: one is too competitive and the other is too cooperative—both pose high risks to the negotiator and his or her ambitions.

The authors go on to note, “Every negotiator has two kinds of interests: in the substance and in the relationship.” Interests are the needs, wants, concerns, and ambitions of the negotiators and/or their constituents. Negotiations involve two or more parties discussing what they want from a deal or their substantive interests in the deal. Negotiations also involve an interpersonal or relationship dynamic. Often, negotiations take place in the context of existing relationships, which intensifies the importance of negotiators’ relationship interests, but some the negotiators’ relationship is short-term and involves a single transaction. Even in such cases, the authors state, “At a minimum, a negotiator wants to maintain a working relationship good enough to produce an acceptable agreement.”3

The tension between a negotiator’s substantive and relationship interests drives the mixed motive dynamic, and makes the job of managing that dynamic a central concern of the negotiation process. Many strategies4 have been noted for managing the mixed motive dynamic.  A few of the more popular strategies are listed below:

  • Tit-for-Tat: Perhaps the most famous strategy for managing mixed motives.  It involves making your first move in the negotiation cooperative, then reciprocating the other side’s response (i.e. if they respond cooperatively, you reciprocate; if they respond competitively, you reciprocate). This iterative strategy often leads parties to the understanding that they are better off by cooperating.
  • Strategically Negotiating: This tactic employs both integrative and distributive negotiation strategies. The integrative strategies are employed for exploring interests and options of both parties to create value in the deal, while the distributive strategies are used for bargaining over the deal’s value.
  • Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction (GRIT): This strategy was developed during the Cold War for escalated, high stakes negotiation and involves making concessions not related to the main issue, with an invitation for the other side to reciprocate. For example, if two business have been in a patent-dispute, one company may employ the GRIT strategy by offering the other firm a concession that is relevant to their interests, but not directly related to the patent dispute. This technique allows for a de-escalation of the dispute before moving forward with the original substantive concern.

Matthew Guasco and Peter Robinson point out in Principles of Negotiation that a key to managing the mixed motive dilemma is to be aware of your own natural inclination towards cooperation or competition as a negotiator. Being aware of your tendency to compete or cooperate within a negotiation allows you to engage the process more effectively by knowing where in the negotiation you may need to “step out” of the approach that arises from your natural inclination and into the opposite approach for the sake of balancing the competing interests present in the negotiation.



  1. “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Last Modified October 22, 2007,
  2. Matthew Guasco and Peter R. Robinson, Principles of Negotiation: Strategies, Tactics, Techniques to Reach Agreement (Entrepreneur Press: 2007)
  3. Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Random House: 1991)
  4. Peter T. Coleman, “President Obama’s Mixed-Motive Dilemma,” Psychology Today, Last Modified February 3, 2012,



By |June 1st, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments