It has happened repeatedly throughout history: two or more countries or ethnic groups fundamentally disagree and war breaks out.
Or a marriage ends and the emotional and financial toll drags on for years. And then there are the hostile corporate takeovers, which not only reduce shareholder wealth but stir bad feelings all around.
As new research in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences points out, dispute settlement does not have to proceed and end badly.
In fact, decades of research in social psychology has shown that by regulating conflict constructively parties can not only avoid unpleasant and costly conflicts but settle disputes in ways that mutually benefit both sides, certainly the hope of all sides in the current breakthrough over a Iranian nuclear deal.This constructive strategy—known as negotiation, or problem solving—cannot be unilateral, and it is the only form of dispute resolution that not only creates value but also benefits both sides.
Personality and Negotiation
Sometimes negotiation arises when one side realizes it can’t win, explains Carsten K.W. De Dreu, author of “Negotiating Deals and Settling Conflict Can Create Value for Both Sides.”
Negotiation prevailed when the Irish Republican Army and British government negotiated an end to decades of bloodshed and terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland.
Or it may arise to avoid catastrophe, such as when the United States and what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics launched intensified trade negotiations to end severe drought in the USSR.
Negotiation is not easy, De Dreu states. “There is room for cheating and deception, and thus for suspicion and distrust.”
Adding to the challenge is the mentally taxing nature of negotiation. People often try to simplify the issues by making assumptions and setting limits on what they might consider a gain or loss. De Dreu uses the term naïve realism to describe negotiators who fail to recognize other points of view and frame questions that could support only their own hypotheses.
Greed and other barriers to negotiation can be counteracted by a concept he calls cooperative motivation: the desire to reach an agreement that also accommodates the other side. People with personality traits that are heavy on “agreeableness” and “need for affiliation” typically are more inclined to make concessions to benefit the other side.
Showing concern for the other party does not necessarily require ignoring self-interest, De Dreu states. But it does require putting in the time to fully understand the issues.
In short, there are no short cuts. As De Dreu explains, negotiators need to fully understand the issues as well as the other party’s needs and interests. They also should be free to negotiate without the weight of “constituents”—colleagues, spouses, friends, etc.—looking over their shoulder. Negotiators often will assume these constituents want them to be competitive.
As the paper states: “Value creation benefits from benign environments.”
In low-pressure situations, negotiators are free to focus on long-term perspectives and match their own interests with those of the other party. In the end, both sides make concessions, but both sides also win.