The debt ceiling debate within the USA government created an intense moment in a strained ongoing relationship between the two parties. People wondered who would win and who would lose. The consequences of a stalemate appeared dire.
Regardless of the outcome, the civility of the process mattered.
Negotiation is a charged process. It has an emotional impact. Actions of negotiators have symbolic meaning. The impact can be quite broad. The negotiators themselves are generally people of consequence. They are leaders of organizations, or, as with the debt ceiling, leaders of a nation. They remember the quality of their encounters during the process.
Good debate confirms that these are people I can work with. Signs of disrespect and incivility offend people personally while disparaging the parties that they represent.
Negotiations for political or labor issues have an audience. The symbolic value of the process has greater impact as people interpret the respect shown among individual negotiators to signal respect for their group.
In my experience with labor negotiations, I have found three points that help to maintain constructive working relationships during and after the process.
- Focus on Superordinate Goals. The fact that negotiations occur at all acknowledges that the two parties are linked to one another. The ultimate reference points for success are the goals and values that they share.
- Listen. Rather than dismissing the other negotiators’ concerns, understanding their perspective builds a pathway to solutions. While you may not share the world-view that generates their position, it’s valuable to listen carefully to how they make sense of your shared situation.
- Focus on the Working Relationship. The enduring outcome of a negotiation is the working relationship between the parties. No negotiation solves all problems. A good negation builds a relationship that allows the larger group to address the challenges and opportunities that will emerge.
Civility when all is going well and there are no contentious issues is easy. Civility in an adversarial process is a much greater challenge.
In your organization, do negotiations on critical issues reflect civility and respect?