Mutual Gains Negotiation or integrative bargaining places importance on separating people or emotional issues from substantive problems.
Often the people or relationship issues become entangled with the substantive issues or problem to be resolved. Conflict over substantive issues or the ‘real problem’ then tends to spill over into conflict between people. People then identify one another as being part of the problem and this becomes a significant barrier to reaching an agreement - you cannot shake hands with closed fists.
Positional bargaining often represents this entanglement of people and problem issues, where people frame positions to represent their interest and then enter a contest of wills over positions rather than the substantive interests to be resolved.
People or emotional issues may also be based upon unfounded fears, bias or assumptions (expectancy theory) and this may lead to defensiveness, hard bargaining and a competitive response from the other party (self fulfilling prophecy). Fisher, Ury and Patton (1991), suggest that we employ the following strategies to separate the people issues from the problem:
• Not deduce the other party’s intentions from your fears or assumptions. Instead,
search for the truth through strategies such as active listening, empathy and use of
• Try to take a walk in the other party’s shoes as a means of seeing the problem through
their lens – this may lead to better understanding and less defensiveness.
• Be Soft on the People and Hard on the Problem
• People problems (emotions) often become entwined with the objective, rational basis
for the problem
• Do not ignore the people problems – disengage them from the substantive problem
and treat them separately
• Enables you to treat each other as human beings, with understanding and empathy
• Encourage participants to collaborate for the purpose of attacking the problem and
not one another
• Discuss each other’s perceptions, make them explicit and recognize them as being
legitimate without attacking them so that we may gain a better understanding of
• Allow the other party to vent and release their feelings so that you may then focus
upon the problem
• Act inconsistently with the other party’s perceptions
However, the people issues may also become the problem. We should recognize this and deal with the people issues directly and separately from the substantive issues. We will explore the people and relationship issues in more detail in a following post. To learn more about how you may separate the people issues from the problem or to make a suggestion you may simply leave a comment below or contact the author.