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Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

Face-to-Face: Emotion in Conflict Resolution

We've been having a blog-versation about joint sessions this past week thanks to attorney Gavin Craig, workplace conflict mediation trainer Guy Harris (see also An Attitude of Curiosity - continued) and Pennsylvania litigator and blogger Max Kennerly.

Kennerly says:

sometimes I don't want to discuss the case. Sometimes either we're at the end of the road or you're not even on our road, and I'm not going to humor you and your insufficient offers and your attempt to use social influence on me. Indeed, many of my best offers come after cancelling settlement conferences before they happen.

Just something to keep in mind. Every trick you know is a trick that can be played on you and/or your client.

While Craig recalls a mediation in which a joint session hardened the parties' positions as follows:

The mediator decided at the last minute that it would be nice to see if we could all meet and agree in a joint session.

In his defense, he had the advantage of reviewing the positions of both parties in their submittals. There was no warning that the mediator was going to try to help the parties come to an agreement in a joint session.

What I remember most was my client getting so incensed by the positions of the other party in the joint session. Unfortunately my client hardened his position – not helpful in mediation – and apparently the other party did the same. I think the theory about eye-to-eye meeting and negotiations is absolutely correct.

The problem is that parties bring so much emotion into a settlement discussion that I think they need to stay separate from the people creating the emotion before they can calmly assess the best course of action.

What interests me most about Craig's comment is this:

I think the theory about eye-to-eye meeting and negotiations is absolutely correct. The problem is that parties bring so much emotion into a settlement discussion that I think they need to stay separate from the people creating the emotion before they can calmly assess the best course of action.

I'm going to be writing about this conversation all week and invite others to please comment.

Right now, I'd like anyone interested in the resolution of conflict close to home (the neighbors; the  PTA President; the woman sitting in the cubicle next to you stripping laquer from her nails with industrial strength polish remover; the entire HR department; your boss, etc.) to read It Took a Villain to Save Our Marriage in the Style section of this Sunday's New York Times.

Here's the "money shot" for anyone who has ever mediated neighborhood disputes in a community mediation center as I do pro bono.

Then while the rest of the block kissed goodnight, I stomped down the street in the dark to Blocker’s house and pounded on his door.

He opened it, shirtless and calm; it unnerved me. I’m sure I looked crazed. I felt my face puff up. “Stop taking our signs!” I said.

There was a shift. It was he who had the advantage now — I was on his porch, and drunk.

But Blocker didn’t say anything mean. He didn’t seem angry, as he should have been, that I had bothered him late at night; he didn’t threaten to call the police. We stood close, inches away. There was an intimacy in our strange hate.

“I didn’t take them,” he said. “Seriously. The city picks them up sometimes. I know where they put them. I could check if you want.”

No, I didn’t want. But I thanked him, and walked home both shaken and comforted, and thinking Anthony would kill me if he knew I had crossed enemy lines like that, alone. I didn’t tell him.

There was one more encounter. Blocker drove by me in his car. He slowed and rolled down his window, and instead of grunting or sneering, he said, “Did you find your signs?”

“No. I didn’t look.”

We exchanged a few more words — about the weather, his dogs — but it was quick. He drove off, and a few weeks later we moved.

A trained and skilled mediator would take advantage of these two fleeting moments of concern on the part of "Blocker" who is the bully in this story with a heart-rending conclusion. 

Read it?

Now assume that these people -- all three of them and maybe a few additional neighbors as well -- belong to a homeowners' association with the power to fine the HOA "outlaw," making the fines a lien against his property.  Now its a legal dispute.

Ask yourself, what do the parties' legal positions have to do with the resolution of the conflict?

Leave your thoughts here -- down in the comments section -- and I'll be back soon to discuss the New York Times conflict resolution hypothetical based not only on my experience mediating the resolution of litigated commercial disputes, but also based on my pro bono community mediation experience and on the studies that earned me an LL.M that's purportedly not worth the paper its printed on (a judgment that could be just as easily applied to my Bachelors Degree in English Literature were it not for its transmogrification into a ticket to practice law).

Bonus Question:  do we really want to dedicate our lives to the satisfactory resolution of conflict -- which is what the law, after all, is all about -- or would we rather, like the author of It Took A Villain, take the pleasure to be had in the state of high dudgeon, self-righteousness, and passionate engagement with someone who is an easy target to blame for our own unhappy life circumstances?

Double Bonus Question for Lawyers Practicing in Los Angeles:  Would you let the Los Angeles Superior Court choose your trial attorney or your marriage and family counselor from a panel of people who have had 28 hours of training in their "professional" field of practice just because the first three hours are free?  

Comments (1)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Samantha Balmes - April 16, 2009 1:04 PM

I think the question you bring up in your Bonus Question is very interesting. I know many people who love the thrill of the fight; choosing to place blame and let emotions run wild rather than find an amicable solution. Something about the “good feeling” attached to winning an argument/a discussion based on emotional strength rather than negotiating skills/knowledge excites some people.

Really, though, manipulation of emotion and using them to your advantage takes a different type of skill and knowledge than negotiating in a way that satisfies everyone. I also think that manipulation of emotion is a skill still being taught in law school negotiation classes, although in a must subtler way. For example, Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury teaches you how to manipulate the other party in a manner which makes you seem friendly and empathetic. In a way, the book teaches you to take the other party’s interests (and the emotions attached) and state them in a way which gets that party to agree with you.

Also, negotiation classes, books, and articles attempt to teach students to read the other party’s emotions to gain insight into mindset. By reading surprise, exhaustion, envy, jealousy, or any other emotion in body language, tonality, or word choice, a successful negotiator can push certain emotional buttons to make negotiations go his/her way. Similarly, students are taught to suppress their own emotional responses unless they may be helpful to the negotiation. Together, a successful and skilled negotiator can force a party into a decision/resolution/compromise to which they may not otherwise agree by manipulating emotions.

Are these tactics really that different than the bully method simply because they make the other party feel “happy” about the result? The other party may not know they are being emotionally manipulated, and may even feel good about the outcome, but ethically, is the situation really that different than outright bullying? In some ways I could see how emotional bullying would be a more ethical choice because at least the other party knows they are being emotionally manipulated and can fight back. Unless the other party also knows the skills of “friendly” emotional manipulation, there is not any way for them to retaliate in kind.

I suppose “happy-feeling” manipulation also provides a thrill to those who utilize the technique. It just depends on whether you get your kicks from outright brutality or secret manipulation.

As for the ethical question, either could be deemed ethical depending on the motivation behind the use of the technique. If a woman is in a seriously abusive relationship and you want to get her out, she may respond better to bullying techniques. Is it better to get her out and safe in the quickest and most effective manner or better to make sure her feelings are not hurt? I personally would get her out before she gets killed; she can forgive me later for hurt feelings (or not), but she is safe and that is more important than happy feelings. There is no point in negotiating with a dead person.

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