Diplomacy — defined by Merriam-Webster as “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility” — is an art. By the time we’re adults, it’s hoped we’ve picked up a few tactics for conflict resolution that favor diplomacy over hostility. Unfortunately, all many of us have learned by now is how to avoid conflict — which might delay our discomfort for a time, but it certainly doesn’t offer any permanent solutions to our problems.
In this episode, we’ll equip you with no less than 10 tools for conflict resolution in personal and professional situations that give you the power to negotiate fearlessly and effectively — not only without raising the ire of the party on the other side of the table, but ensuring you both walk away from the table better for the experience.
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Ideally, a savvy negotiation will be a win/win in which both invested parties leaving the table feel like they’ve gained something from the outcome. But conflict resolution isn’t always so tidy. It can get messy if we’re ill-prepared to enter the fray or — even worse — fear to enter the fray in the first place and do everything in our power to avoid it.
“When it comes to adult life,” says AJ, “conflict is inevitable. I know it’s something growing up that I tried to avoid. My father was a very conflict-averse guy and he gave us the silent treatment growing up, so I didn’t really have the tools available to me to handle conflict — and it’s something that I’ve really struggled with in my adult life.”
“JFK said it best,” Johnny adds. “‘Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.'”
It’s not the always the conflict itself that strikes fear into the hearts of many, but the thought of trying to put all of a conflict’s moving pieces in place without a game plan can be exhausting. So let’s work on a game plan.
Three Criteria for Effective Negotiation
“Negative experiences in our lives are the formation for limiting beliefs,” says AJ. “A negative outcome starts to get rationalized by our brain and we start to fill in the blanks and create these beliefs about what we’re capable of, other people’s interest level in us, and fill in the list from there. So these negative limiting beliefs are all stemming back to one or two of these negative moments where conflict arose, where you didn’t get the result you were looking for.”
A common limiting belief is that there’s no way to come away from a conflict unscathed. But if we enter the conflict by keeping a blueprint for effective negotiation in mind, we acknowledge that not only is it possible to come away from a conflict unscathed, but both parties can leave that conflict better for the experience.
It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible. “Obviously, a good negotiation leads to agreement,” says AJ.
It should be efficient. “Both parties want to move forward,” says Johnny.
It should improve or at least not damage the relationship. “We’re doing our best to avoid it blowing up in both parties’ faces,” AJ says.
10 Ways to Maintain High Value in Conflict Resolution
1. Be Prepared
“If we know we’re going to encounter conflict, let’s come in prepared,” says AJ.
Do you your best to come to the table presenting value up front. Being optimistic that the other side is looking for a favorable resolution to the conflict that suits both parties is a better place to start than being pessimistic that the other side is looking to pull a fast one on you. Obversely, don’t write yourself a part as the villain in your own story. Being honest about your intentions from the beginning cultivates a meaningful relationship — and builds your reputation as a fair and reasonable negotiator — that may last long past the negotiation itself.
2. Take Emotion out of the Equation
Unless you’re from the planet Vulcan, this one’s almost impossible — but it’s important to consider that achieving a desired outcome is a higher priority than feeding your ego. Trying to remove emotion from the equation gives you a pragmatic perspective on the situation rather than skewing your perception in a direction divorced from reality — and taking however the situation plays out personally.
“Sometimes we can allow our thoughts and emotions to overwhelm us to the point where that’s what we identify with,” says AJ. “And a lot of our tactics in Bootcamp are about separating our emotions and thoughts from who we are as people.”
3. Don’t Assume the Position
Forget about arguing your case from a position, because doing so will only entrench the opposition in his or her position and force an outcome that depends on one side conceding their position.
“When it comes to position, whoever’s stronger or the most arrogant is the one that’s going to win out — not the idea!” says Johnny.
Remember: the goal is to ensure that everyone at the table leaves feeling good about the outcome, and you should invite critique from all parties involved to gain perspective on the big picture. In essence, there aren’t really “sides” or “opposition” — everyone’s on the same team and striving for this ideal.
4. Take Responsibility
When you blame others for a less-than-ideal situation, you become a victim. Taking responsibility, on the other hand, gives you control of the situation. It’s empowering. Trying to assign fault to someone else puts them on the defensive and takes away from what should be the focus: agreeing on a solution to the problem. By assigning that fault to yourself as quickly as possible, you end the useless ritual of finger pointing and get back to the task at hand.
“Once again, the big picture is resolution,” says Johnny. “You can’t move forward unless some party takes some part of the responsibility…from a place of power, if you take responsibility, you’re in the driver’s seat.”
5. Employ Empathy and Lenses
“Lens is being able to see the problem from the other person’s point of view,” says Johnny. “Empathy is being able to feel the problem from the other person’s point of view.”
These are tools that can be sharpened by taking an interest in others and understanding what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
By bringing lenses and empathy to a conflict resolution, you continue to blur the line of division between sides and better prepare yourself to seek an outcome that benefits everybody.
6. Communicate in Team Speak
“Speak from the we instead of the me,” says AJ.
Team speak is when you acknowledge the contribution of everyone at the table to seeing the negotiation through to a solution for the benefit of all. It reminds all parties that everyone is on the same team, and that all concerns will have an opportunity to be voiced, recognized, and evaluated.
“It sets the frame of win/win,” says AJ. “When we’re teammates, we’re both going to win. If we’re adversarial, only one of us is going to win.”
7. Know What You Want
“Sometimes we can enter into conflict and have no idea what that resolution would be,” says AJ.
High value people know what they want out of a situation well before engaging in negotiation. They go in with a plan of what they want to achieve and work toward it. This plan will likely adapt to new information picked up over the course of the negotiation and evolve accordingly, but think of it as a compass that points toward what a resolution should look like. As with taking responsibility, having a plan empowers you to have a voice in directing the conversation toward a favorable destination.
8. Weigh the Options
If two kids are given a cake to divide among themselves, the best way to ensure a win/win outcome is to have one cut it in half and the other pick which piece he wants. This gives the cutter an incentive to slice the pieces as evenly as possible — otherwise, there’s a very good chance the picker will just take the biggest piece for himself.
By understanding how different options in a negotiation will benefit each party, you can best outline an outcome that ensures everyone walks away with an equal piece of the resolution.
“It’s forcing the lens and empathy that we were talking about,” says AJ.
9. Convey Appropriate Body Language
When you’re negotiating a conflict resolution, it’s important to remember what your body language conveys. If you’re arguing from a fixed, immovable position, your body will follow suit, forcing the other party to do the same. But if you’re approaching the negotiation from a place of cooperation and your body language amplifies this message, the other party will likely mirror it accordingly.
“Are we utilizing our body language to be open to compromise — to be open to the other person’s perspective?” asks AJ, “Or are we digging in our heels by closing our body language and getting confrontational with our body language?”
10. Look for Agreement
Over the course of the negotiation and using the nine points we talked about before this one, we should see the places where our Venn diagram overlaps — things we can agree upon that benefit everybody. This moves us closer to the resolution.
“If we just focus on where we don’t agree, we’re not getting anywhere,” says AJ. “But if we can start meeting in the middle and working from there, out, we can come to a resolution where both parties feel like they won — and that’s the win/win.
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AJ Harbinger - author of 1111 posts on The Art of Charm
AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality.
Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.
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