The human aspects of conflict

The human aspects of conflict

The human aspects of conflict

The negotiator or mediator must consider the relational aspects of the parties. 

It is not uncommon for tensions between people to paralyse the life of a company. Decision-making bodies grind to a halt and important decisions are not taken. In this context, too many negotiations focus on factual elements. However, those who feel hurt, depressed, worried or frustrated are not well placed to reach an agreement. 

When emotions run high, everyone analyses the situation from their own perspective. Perception is confused with reality. We confuse the problem with the relationship. In the absence of dialogue, misunderstandings reinforce mistrust and provoke overreactions, creating a vicious cycle. Misunderstood attitudes lead to excessive judgements and demonisation of the other person. Rational problem-solving becomes impossible. 

Any negotiation, even in a professional context, must therefore take into account the human element. The negotiator must simultaneously manage two dimensions: the exchange of factual information and rational elements. 

Work on three fronts: 

-Communication. Despite the clouded relationship, it is important to find ways to express what is being experienced and create a framework based on respect and listening. This exchange is an essential step in de-escalating the conflict. 

-Emotions. Emotions can only be released if they are acknowledged. You have to dare to talk about everyone’s emotions, not only the other person’s but also your own. Why am I angry? How can I express this without hurting the other person’s feelings? And what is the other party really going through? 

-Perception. Conflict is not in objective reality, but in people’s minds. It is the way reality is perceived that feeds the conflict. We need to clear misunderstandings and bring the dispute back into proportion. 

Conflict management therefore presupposes that the parties can express themselves and listen to each other. If emotions run too high, a strict framework, rules of good behaviour and the presence of a neutral, trained third party can make things easier. 

Mediation aims to create such a framework. The involvement of the mediator, whose aim is to help the parties reach an agreement, is often decisive. 

Some tips : 

Some practical tips to make a negotiation meeting in a tense climate successful: 

– Allow the other party to « vent » its emotions; 

Avoid reacting too quickly and maintain self-control; 

Listen carefully, really try to understand what the other party wants to say, ask questions and reformulate; 

Try to understand the needs behind the emotions: safety, independence, respect, recognition, belonging to a group. 

Acknowledging the needs and values that evoke emotions helps to re-establish positive dynamics. 

When talking about your emotions, speak for yourself, not for the other person. It is more effective to say « I feel betrayed» than « you have broken your word When it comes to factual elements, get straight to the point, speak to make yourself understood, not to teach a lesson, and always keep the purpose of the negotiation in mind. 

To reduce tension, remember to make a symbolic and unexpected. A handshake or a small surprise can help ease the pressure. Focus on the problem, not the person. Try to move from face-to-face to side-by-side. Invite the other person to face the problem together. Show empathy. Try to understand what the other person is going through. Imagine you are in the other person’s shoes and tell them you understand their feelings. 

Finally, offering an apology, as long as it is sincere and well accepted, can turn the relationship from a stalemate to a path of reconciliation.  

Recognising emotions 

Since companies are made up of people, emotions are as present as in other aspects of life. So they need to be recognised and managed. But prevention is always better than cure. Maintaining good relationships with your employees, colleagues and business associates remains the best way to prevent the inevitable trouble spots from escalating! 

(1) This article was inspired by the work of Roger Fisher & William Ury, professors at Harvard University and founders of integrative negotiation. 

Article written by Mr Tanguy Della Faille
Certified mediator 

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