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Dobermans and Diplomats: Re-Opening Deadlocked Negotiations
John H. Wade
Editors’ Note: One of the clear roles of negotiators, mediators, lawyers, managers, parents and human beings is to attempt to re-open “jammed” negotiations. Lawyers, negotiators, managers and mediators are paid to be competent, even expert, at recommencing communications and negotiations which have reached a stalemate or a tense stand-off. Yet many otherwise competent professionals find this difficult. This chapter sets out seventeen common strategies used by the most skilled “problem-solvers” to re-open negotiations between deadlocked disputants.
This chapter sets out seventeen common strategies used by skilled “problem-solvers” to re-open negotiations between deadlocked disputants. It raises the question of where such knowledge can be included in the already over-crowded lifelong education of lawyers (and diplomats, mediators, negotiators and parents). One of the clear roles of negotiators, mediators, lawyers, managers, parents and human beings is to attempt to re-open “jammed” negotiations. Lawyers, negotiators, managers and mediators are paid to be competent, even expert, at recommencing communications and negotiations which have reached a stalemate or a tense stand-off.
Yet the task is difficult, primarily because people in long-term conflict usually do not want to attempt to re-open negotiations if the attempt will involve loss of position, image or information. That is, they do not want to be, or be perceived to be, weak. The negotiator wants to give out double messages of aggression and peacemaking. For example, lawyers commonly say on the telephone “Before our clients start up World War III again, should they talk first?” Words are important. Experienced lawyers do not usually say “My client would like to avoid World War III, can we talk?” This raises the other major difficulty in this process of re-opening jammed negotiations—it requires uncommon skills and character.
This chapter identifies a range of strategies and skills to re-open negotiations. These are based predominantly on the work of Pruitt and Kim (2004). Examples are given particularly from the writer’s practice as a mediator and as a family lawyer.
Seventeen possible methods to re-open negotiations are:
■ Back channel contacts
■ Use of intermediaries
■ Giving conciliatory signals
■ Superordinate goals
■ Expressing vigorous “no surrender” on interests
■ Willingness to discuss procedure
■ Admitting flexibility on specific solutions
■ Refusing to make any unilateral concessions
■ Identification of division between hawks and doves
■ Acknowledgement of other’s interests
■ Mild threats or consequences
■ Clear rejection of unacceptable past solutions
■ Assembly of an expert problem solving team
■ Rewarding others for any helpful initiatives
■ Keeping communication open
■ Prioritising of interests
■ Filing a formal claim
No doubt there are a number of other strategies to re-open deadlocks. A negotiator or facilitator who has a large repertoire of available interventions becomes a powerful person—like a tennis player with a wide repertoire of shots.
The above seventeen will be discussed in turn.
1. Back Channel Contacts
While the official and public negotiators are posturing, threatening and expressing righteous indignation, unofficial meetings can take place in coffee houses (not necessarily in Vienna). The back channel personnel may be friends, relatives or technicians (e.g. accountants in family feuds).
They have no authority to settle and they speak “as individuals” not for the organizations or tribes. The back-channel meeting may have a real or feigned secretiveness—“I don’t want my relatives to know that I’ve....
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