Negotiation Is One Way To Resolve Conflict

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about conflict, what causes it, how different types of people approach conflict, and suggestions for resolving conflict. What is the link between negotiation and conflict?

Negotiation is one of the methods used to resolve conflict. Negotiation is a give and take process between two or more people seeking to find common ground and reach agreement on something each cares about or in order to resolve a conflict.

In addition to negotiation, people use avoidance, mediation, arbitration and litigation to settle conflicts.

Negotiation, as well as avoidance and mediation, provide you with the most direct control over outcomes. With avoidance – you have single-handedly shut down the conversation. When using mediation, you will be actively working to identify solutions that will not only work for you but also satisfy the needs other people bring to the table. When you negotiate, you confer directly with others and can influence them directly, without an intermediary.

What People Disagree Over

A good negotiator is a good problem solver and can also become a good conflict resolver. The first step is being willing to face up to the fact (and not avoiding) that there is a disagreement between you and your supervisor, your co-worker or someone who reports to you – you need to be able to recognize disagreement before you can address it. The second step is being willing to address the disagreement before it gets too big. The third step is to assess what might be causing the disagreement. Disagreements and conflict at work can originate in any of the following areas.

Beliefs, values and attitudes:

  • Direction of the business
  • Use of power
  • Role clarity; interdependence
  • Expertise
  • Accountability
  • Autonomy
  • Time orientation: past, present or future
  • Individualism versus team work
  • Communication styles


  • Creating resources
  • Use of resources
  • Allocation of resources


  • Unclear/no job descriptions or division of labor
  • Lines of authority poorly articulated
  • Arbitrary reward system
  • Undocumented and ad hoc business processes
  • Ambiguous rules/no rules

A Workplace Example

Perhaps you’ve been in a situation similar to Elaine’s. Elaine wants a raise, maybe even a promotion that would ensure that raise, and her supervisor has been avoiding the discussion. When Elaine finally gets to talk to Paul, her supervisor, he flat out says no, there’s no way that can happen now. Elaine got angry because it was not the first time he shut down the conversation. She didn’t say anything. She went back to her office and thought about looking for a new job at a different company. Then she thought about going over her supervisor’s head to his supervisor, but decided that it would be a bad move if it backfired. Her best strategy is to meet again with her boss with an understanding of his possible objections and a strategy for overcoming them.

Understanding which of the sources of disagreement might be at play could take her a little while. In fact, Elaine may have to meet with Paul and ask several questions to get the information that will help her prepare accurately. Some possible questions, suggested by the list above, include:

  • Does he think her work is worthy of more money?
  • If he does, are the financial resources available?
  • If the money is there, is he willing to spend it on human resources or are his priorities new equipment or furnishings?
  • Does he have the time to handle the paperwork? If the answer is no, Elaine can offer to help with the forms or provide the written rationale for the upper management that approves raises.

A concrete, practical link between resolving conflict and negotiating is that both require:

  • Familiarity with the sources of conflict
  • Use of diagnostic thinking in order to identify what is creating disagreement, delay, conflict or impasse

Being a good diagnostician is one skill common to the negotiation and the conflict resolution toolbox.



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