Seven Steps to Handling Interpersonal Differences

Keys to Negotiating with Power and Grace

By Daniel Robin

Make no mistake: resolving differences through negotiation is not a logical, linear process. However, this model can serve as a framework for staying on track and learning how and where things go wrong.

These seven steps progress from how you might want to begin an effort to resolve differences to how you’d want to complete that effort. Remember to prepare by writing down your goal before taking your first step. Enjoy the dance!

1. Establish a healthy context

Plan and select the right time, place, and atmosphere to negotiate … one that fosters mutual respect. Agree to groundrules, if necessary, so both parties feel safe and able to speak openly.

You’ll know if you picked the wrong time if you sit there during the conversation asking yourself “Why am I talking about this right now?” Make an appointment or simply wait until the right moment. Ask others to do the same.

2. Tap into motivation

Mutual motivation is prerequisite to effective negotiation.

If they have a positional or situational power advantage, appeal to their self-interest (match their values) to motivate them to join you at the negotiation table and grant power to the conversation.

If you have more positional or situational power (you’re “one up”), temporarily suspend that privilege to “empower” the other party through inclusion. Share the commodities of power so they actively participate in getting to an agreement. Be direct and forthcoming. Speak plainly. Clarify your intention to “work it out” and ask for them to hold you accountable to standards and guidelines.

People use power differently — passive avoiders hold onto interpersonal power (they might need it later), authoritarians use power over others, accommodaters give it up, while collaborators go for power with others, or “shared power.” What’s your most and least familiar style? Who are you working with and what’s their natural style? See the Interpersonal and Leadership Styles discussion for details.

3. Remember your Goal

Before the conversation begins, ask yourself “What do I want?” If what you want is likely to be unacceptable to the other person (your “position”), then ask yourself “What would it do for me if I had that?” Be clear about how you’d know if you achieved your desired outcome.

Because you write down your goal in terms of wants, actual needs (interests, motivation, core values, or criteria), options and alternatives, all you need do during the discussion is to recollect what you wrote down and then ….

4. Discover their Goal

Build rapport as you gather information about what they want. Be curious and interested. Focus first on understanding and defining any problems or issues, then shift to pinpointing their priorities and interests. Ask “What would that do?” “how,” and “when” questions — avoid “why.”

5. Accept and Validate their View

Accepting it doesn’t mean you agree with it or obligate you to share stated interests. Before asking them to understand your view, make sure you understand & can verify exactly how it is for them. Surface any “Yes, but…” resistance. Match and mirror to get to the heart of any issues. Remember: you know your own goal (Step 3), so you’re free to first be fully on their agenda.

6. Build a Bridge

Use what you’ve learned to highlight areas where you agree. Identify your shared concerns against your shared separation. Shift out of “you against me” and into “us against the problem.” Lead toward a mutual understanding of “what we both want.” Moving with any resistance you encounter (steps 4 & 5), propose possible creative alternatives (“What if I …, would you …?”) to clarify conditions of satisfaction.

Brainstorm several options that would satisfy mutual interests. If possible, include ideas from multiple perspectives (at minimum, theirs and yours) to build toward a blended “best of both worlds” approach.  Consider how this problem, or one similar to it, was previously resolved [by anyone]. Do not squander this opportunity to find a solution on proving that you are right and they are wrong or building an adversarial alliance with others who happen to agree with you.

Two useful questions at this stage are “How might we work it out so that your needs and my needs are both met?” or more directly “What would it take … [to satisfy both our concerns]?”  Answers to one or both of these questions will open up a variety of ways to reach agreement. Don’t pick one right away, just list them.  Give yourself (and your negotiation partner) time, breathing room, and a chance to fully consider creative ideas.

7. Walk Across the Bridge

Collaborate in selecting the one, best alternative to satisfy shared interests. You’ll know you’re on the right track when one of you says “Which one of these options would work best for you?” or if someone checks to see if there’s anything else to talk about.

Close the session by verifying understandings and agreements reached, including any further action, inquiry or follow-up steps. Recognize and appreciate cooperation as well as clear boundaries.
As you practice using these steps, you will open up a variety of new ways to form agreements, show respect, and preserve — perhaps even strengthen — your basis for relationship.