The Negotiator Magazine

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Fishing While Helping Bargainers Learn to Fish. Good facilitation poses a paradox between short term and long-term goals. On the one hand, it is the job of the facilitator to help solve the conflict at hand by guiding the group and actively directing conversations in productive directions. On the other hand, it is the job of the facilitator to enhance the collaborative problem solving skills of the bargainers themselves so that they can more constructively handle their differences in the future.

Dealing with this paradox alters the facilitator's role over the course of the negotiations, as bargainers' relationships with each other evolve. In the beginning, when conflict is looming, history is bad, and the interest-based process is an untried experiment, facilitators take an active, leading role as neutral coaches to move the process forward. In the beginning of the San Diego contract negotiations, the facilitators focused on two activities: modeling collaborative behavior with one another and with the group, and taking an active hand in the course of the conversations repeating for understanding, reframing, and defusing tension in re-framing interactions.

As bargainers engaged in the collaborative process, they learned how to behave more collaboratively. In addition, relationships developed, progress was made, and they observed other bargainers behaving more collaboratively. These factors helped each person become collaborative in a self-directed manner. Thus, as passed, the facilitators' intervention was less directive. In San Diego, by the end of the process, the facilitators stepped in only at very difficult moments. The facilitators considered it a mark of success when the group solved problems on its own through productive conversations.


Three overarching lessons from the San Diego City School District experience emerge:

1. Think broadly about the range of relationships you need to engage in. Throw the doors to your negotiation wide open. Include in your scope every party whose disapproval could sink the deal, or whose disapproval could make implementation of agreement difficult.

2. Engage each party at an appropriate level. Ask yourself the following questions:
    a. What kind of support will I need from this party?
    b. What might their goals and needs be?
    c. What might they fear?
    d. How can I assuage that fear?

3. In every working relationship, employ the following strategies:
    a. Actively communicate with all critical parties
    b. Engage critics of the process
    c. Separate the relationships from the problem

Be sure your engagement strategies and communication take the answers to these questions into consideration.

Building good working relationships at every level moves negotiations forward. How to build these relationships, and with whom, is not often articulated. We hope this article will help you to obtain better working relationships and ultimately better outcomes in your negotiations.

Author's Note: GMC-Saturn recently awarded San Diego School District second place in the coveted Labor-Management Cooperation Award for the 1998 contract negotiations.

Grande Lum is a founder and partner of ThoughtBridge (, a consulting firm that mediates labor-management disputes, advises organizations on mergers and alliances, and provides negotiation training and facilitation services for corporate and non-profit clients. His negotiation work includes consultation with clients in the pharmaceutical, health care, information technology, and financial services industries regarding internal and external negotiation dynamics. A practitioner for over a dozen years, Mr. Lum has written articles on multi-party negotiations and collaborative negotiation for numerous journals. he is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.

Monica Christie is a consultant for ThoughtBridge ( [site not found]). She joined the firm following her completion of Harvard Law School, where she served as a teaching fellow for the Program on Negotiation, taught negotiation at the Program of Instruction for Lawyers, and mediated Massachusetts state court disputes. Ms. Christie trains and advises business and education leaders on negotiating effectively, building strategic relationships, and enacting systemic change. She has worked to institute an innovative grievance mediation program in a large urban school district in addition to conducting the successful joint training and facilitation of the labor and management teams in the San Diego City Schools.

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