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Introduction

“Conflict is the essence of a free and open society” – Saul Alinsky.

This quote by American activist Saul Alinsky seems to be attributing something positive to the concept of conflict. The German sociologist and conflict mediator, Norbert Ropers, describes conflict as “an unavoidable, and vital companion of social change in communities” 1).  This simply means that whereas conflict disrupts the smooth flow of events, it can also stimulate progress and lead to improved relationships, if properly managed.

In the first part of this course we will explore the concept of conflict, i.e. how it comes into being and develop. Proper conflict management skills are a vital component of the armour of a productive negotiator.  During the second and third parts, we will see how specific skills and techniques assist in resolving conflict during negotiations.

Conflict is driven, managed and resolved at emotional level.  Emotions in turn, are shaped by the subconscious mind, preconceptions and perceptions, but also by new information. This belongs to the fields of psychology and sociology and involve unfamiliar and academic terminology. Initially, this may be somewhat confusing, but the picture will become clearer and the relevance of these concepts will become self-explanatory.

Negotiation is a much wider concept than is commonly understood. The average person negotiates numerous times per day. These negotiations are not necessarily obvious or dramatic, and most of the time they are not relationship or situation killers in the short term. However, over time they could have an enormous effect on people’s lives.

Until the publication of the 1991 best seller “Getting to Yes – Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In”2), the traditional approach to negotiation had mainly been based on an adversarial “winner versus loser” philosophy.  In this course, we promote the Harvard Concept, developed by Harvard academics and authors of the abovementioned book, Roger Fisher and William Ury. The essence of this concept is that negotiation parties should join forces in search of the best solutions that would benefit both sides, rather than engage in the traditional bargaining process that tends to destroy value and harm relationships.

The win-win negotiation approach may sound too good to be true.  After all, most people want to gain as much as possible when they negotiate. At least, that is the suspicion with which negotiating parties normally view each other. Therefore, a safety net would not be out of place. This involves particular tactics to keep the other side on the straight and narrow path.  The above-mentioned Harvard academics have also provided us with research results in this regard, in addition to their win-win philosophy.

Former FBI lead hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, who later also became a professor at Harvard, has recorded and structured his experience and wisdom gained during a 25-year career in the FBI3). His tactical approach to negotiation, which is promoted through his firm The Black Swan Group4), complements the win-win approach very well and provides the student with the skills to protect him from a predatory approach by the other party.

The purpose of this course is not only to impart knowledge. Knowledge of conflict and negotiation is good, but not good enough. The correct behaviour in this regard is often counter-intuitive, and a proper internalisation process is required before one can expect a real improvement in performance. It is recommended that students start compiling a list of the things that strike them about their own natural style from the first day. This will assist in developing a customised, personal blueprint for negotiation.

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  1. Ropers, Norbert (2002): Friedensentwicklung, Krisenprävention und Konfliktbearbeitung Technische Zusammenarbeit im Kontext von Krisen, Konflikten und Katastrophen.  Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenmarbeit (GTZ), Eschborn.
  2. Ury, William L.; Fisher, Roger & Patton, Bruce M. (1991): Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement without Giving In. 2nd Ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Massachusetts.
  3. Voss, Chris; with Tahl Raz (2016): Never Split the Difference – Negotiating as if your Life Depended on It. Harper Collins.
  4. www.blackswanltd.com