When Stuck In A Negotiations Statemate, It’s Time to Talk Values

When I say values, I do not mean numbers. In fact, it has been our experience that parties often get stuck when talk is limited to numerical figures. In this article, I use the word values to refer to things that are most important in people’s lives, therefore, serve as a framework on how they lead their lives.

First, let us discuss the pitfalls of limiting discussions to just numerical figures. I want to share an example of a workplace dispute. The labor group of a large multinational corporation filed a complaint about the improper computation of overtime wage involving two very specific days. It was a seemingly simple dispute but created a tremendous rift in the relationship between the company and its union. Both groups were in negotiations for five months until they reached a stalemate and sought third party facilitation. The relationship was civil but rumors of protests were already going around. Neither one was willing to make a move anymore. Animosity had built up in such a way that they no longer trusted each other.

  1. Spiraling up of emotions. Initial feelings of disappointment turned into animosity which plunged deeper into anger. Both parties admitted that the amount was small. Precisely because it was small that the conflict became more than financial to the parties. Labor said that this was such a small request that there was no reason for the company to refuse it. The company said that they could have easily paid it but they didn’t want to set a precedent. Throughout the negotiations, they were passing back and forth sheets of paper with computations. As every sheet of paper is passed on, feelings of resentment from each side were growing.
  2. Nobody was talking about the real issue. Clearly, money was only part of the problem but it has been our observation that we have a tendency to make money the main issue. We fall into the misconception that once the money issue is resolved, the conflict ends. In almost all money cases we have handled, it is hardly ever just that. There were even many notable moments when money was forgone as soon as the underlying issue was addressed.
  3. There’s no place for emotions. Conflict is all about emotions. So when someone involved in a conflict says “it’s not personal, its business”, do not believe him / her.
  4. Options to solve the issue are limited. If negotiations are limited to numbers, then the list of possible solutions will also be limited. Parties may miss out on solutions that may have a more significant and long-term benefit to all. With a limited perspective on the problem, its no wonder stalemates happen.

Parties involved in difficult and highly emotional negotiations need space to reflect, to think, to strategize, to breathe as they work towards the three C’s – clarity, creativity and collaboration.

  1. Clarity of what is most important to each party. This is all about uncovering the values that are most essential to each party. Oftentimes, when people begin talk about their values, it opens up the possibility of finding mutual interests that can be the foundation of what we call “shared values.”
    Representatives from both labor and management were put together in a room outside the office for 2 days to rebuild trust among each other. In what we developed as the Values-based approach to negotiations, each member of the group was able to reflect on his / her own personal values and how it aligns with the corporation for which he / she works for. Labor and management representatives began to relate with each other as individuals, not as spokespersons of their own group. Once trust was established, an agreement of shared values quickly moved along. This 2-day process paved the way for parties to effectively collaborate on their own without the need of a third party facilitator using a mechanism that they designed.
  2. Inspire creativity to come up options that will lead to the “win-win-win” solution.  Once the foundation of shared values is established, parties may now begin to think outside the box to come up with solution that is more than the cliché ‘win-win.’ Win-win-win, a term humorously created by our training participants, is addressing the needs of each party at the current moment and building a relationship in such a way that it allows opportunities for potential collaboration in the future.
  3. Ability to communicate and collaborate  Once the agreement was signed, action plans agreed upon had to be implemented effectively. A critical component of this is a relationship where parties are able to candidly provide feedback without fear of retaliation, especially when feedback happens to negatively impact the other. As part of the agreement signed, labor and management jointly developed a Code of Conduct that they shall follow when handling any future issues.

A third party facilitator’s primary job is to empower parties to resolve their own problems and negotiate their own issues. So a good sign that we have effectively done our job is when clients do not call us for help. Two years have passed since the emotionally intense negotiations stalemate. Representatives from both labor and management shared feedback that new issues arose along the way which they successfully resolved using the Values-based Framework. Another clear testament to how transformation and long lasting solutions can be achieved when we talk about values.

#valuesbridgeus
(Written by Mia Q. Corpus, March 2018)

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