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Communication in Crisis / Techniques of negotiation, persuasion and argumentation

The climate of conflict

Communication between conflicting parties cannot be described perfectly according to the classic paradigm of communication. In conflct, senders and receivers are both under pressure of extreme stress that place into focus elements of metacommunication and speech acts. The climate in conflict is very emotional. Characteristically, fear, frustration, anger, hostility, and unreasonable claims occur. The parties interrupt, yell, contradict and accuse each other.

In negotiations contextual elements influence the sentences uttered. First, elements of metacommunication should be kept under control. Misunderstandings stemming from the inability to code correctly posture, mimics, gestures can result failure of negotations before they have started. Speech acts of courtesy and recognition can serve as evidence of goodwill.

The grammar of negotiation

Raider, Coleman and Gerson distinguish six elements of the „grammar of negotiations” which are beyond the actual exchange of information by using language. The first element can be indentifed as worldview that is inseparable from the identity of the negatiators. Embededness into identity makes the issues of worldview nonnegotiable.

The second element is the climate that is the emotional context of the negotiation. Fear and hope, suspcion and trust determine the climate that as a consequence can take inimical or friendly course. The positions can be considered as the third elements in the negotiation. Positions refer to the preferred solutions of the conflict proposed by the parties. In fact, negotiations can be seen as a struggle between positions. The fourth element of the grammar of negotiation are the goals from which the positions can be derived. The fifth element is reframing that refers to the willingness to find the least common denominator between the parties in conflict.

Finally, bargaining can be mentioned as the six element of the negotiation. Offers („chips”) and threats („chops”) can be used by each side in order influence the process leading to resolution. Chips are useful only if the other party perceives them as valuable. Threats are unorthodox means of negotiation. They are effective only if they seen by the other party as highly probable. According to Raider, Coleman and Gerson discourage the use of threats in negotiation because „they can encourage competition and undermine the trust needed for collaboration.” (Raider, Coleman, Gerson, 2000. 506.)

Behavioral patterns during negotiations

Interaction analyis of actual behavior of the negotiating parties has shown the emergence of five distinctive behavioral patterns during negotiation. Attacking can be identified as a behavior perceived by the other party as inimical. Threats, insults, criticisms, interruption fall in this category. Moreover, attacking is marked by metacommunication signs as intonation, gestures and facial expressions. Evasion occurs when the parties ignore the essence of the problem. Postponement, leaving the scene, violating Grice’s maxims of converstation are the sympotoms of evasion. The essential behavior in negotiation is the exchange of the relevant information that opens the way to sharing of information. Sharing of information is made possbile by asking questions about the other party’s position, listening to the content what the other was saying, and testing the accuracy of one’s understanding. There is no successfully completed negotiation without uniting which includes highlighting the common issues and reframing the conflict issues according to the needs and interests of both parties.

Stages of negotiation

The first stage of negotiation prepares the way to the actualization of the negotiation. The parties show ritual acts of recognition aiming at to building rapport. This stage is dominated by uniting behavor.

The second stage opens the cognitive space in the negotiating process. The parties formulate their positions and clarify the objectives. Informing and opening are the behavioral patterns which dominate this stage. In most conflicts there more than on issue at stakes. Consequently, In the third stage of the negotiation, prioritization is needed in order to set the order between the issues of the conflict. Synchronization refers to finding anwser to the question, such as „How can we achieve the goals of A while also reaching the objectives of B?”

The final stage of the successful negotiation is characterized by the presence of uniting and opening behavioral patterns resulting in mutually acceptable solutions.

Dealing with hostility

Real life negotiations most of the time flow not so predictably. Success depends on how effectively negotiators deal with the behavioral patterns of attacking and evading. In case of blaming, inflexibility, attacking the negotiators are advised to halt the evolvement of the malignant social processes. Instead of conterattacking the attacked negotiator should assume that the other has a different perspective that is to be understood. By acknowledging that there are different perspectives the common ground can be found easier. Active listening can urge the other side to listen actively as well. Each side should feel that truth is something to be worked out together.

Persuasion and coercion

Persuasion is the genre of communication by which people’s attitutes, beliefs and behaviors are changed. Senders and receivers take part in the persuasive communication. The characterstics of persuasive senders are likeability and credibility. The latter consists of trustworthiness and expertise. Recipients with low self-esteem are more likely to be perrsuaded than recipients with high self-esteem. Other variables such as style of the persuasive argumentation and modality of presentation were found as of critical importance to understanding persuasion.

Negotiation-conflict settings, however, pose challenges to negotiators because the these settings are inherently complex and vary widely. During negotiation the parties in conflict might try to persuade each other by means of argumentation and offering a rational solution of the conflict. But charachteristically, the parties use other means as well such as threats, lies and coercion forcing the opponent to accept outcomes that are unacceptable for them.

Persuasion and coercion, consequently have to be distinguished. Coercion is an act of power aimed at influencing the other side to accept disadvantageous resolution. Coercion has nothing to do with persuasion. In case of coercion the party under pressure cannot interiorize the settlement in harmony with his/her self-interest. Persuasion, in contrast results in settlement that stands the test of time because it is founded on private commitment.

As a result of successful persuasion the new beliefs and attitudes become internalized resulting in consistent behavoral change. In order to reach this goal the negotiating partners should move from attempts at coercion to attmepts at persuasion.

Two types of motives certainly reduce the likelihood of successful persuasion. As a result of defense motives the negotiators maintain their prior positions and overestimate the divergence between each other. Concessions are devalued as offering no real benefits toward acceptable solution.The dominance of the defense motives in negotiation prevents persuasion suggesting that the positions become polarized, the conflict becomes escalated.

The negotiatiing parties might be motivated to present themselves in terms of superiority and power. Impression motives lead to the characterization of the other party as extreme and untrustworthy blocking the way to finding opportunities for trading off concessions.

The defense and impression motives should be replaced by the accuracy motives ensuring that new information disconfirms prior beliefs. The success of negotiation is persuasion based on new information transmitted by both parties.

Argumentation tactics

One of the tactics of transmitting new information that runs counter the defense motives. The negotiator assumes the role of the other negotiator by talking about the other’s perspective instead of reiteraiting his/her own. The focus is on the the gains that the other side can get. The defense motives of the other can cause suspicion but being persistent the other will be moved by the accuracy motive.

Another tactic resulting from the emergence of the accuracy motive is focussing on interests rather than positions. By exposing interests the negotiator can work out a true solution consisting of mutually satisfactory outcomes.

Persuasion in negotiation takes place in interpersonal space. The success is more likely if the the negotiating parties see each other not as a representative of a collective entity but as a person who has individual commitments and interests.

The importance of questioning cannot be underestimated in the process of persuasion during negotiations. Defense and impression motives are not much to do with questioning that is less threatening way of communication than stating positions. Questions increase cognitive flexibility that is needed in order to faciliitate unfreezing the mind.

Questions can be specifically targeted to disconfirm false evidence. Being disconfirmed prior shemas and beliefs will be replaced by new and accurate information.

Finally, questioning might help the process of self-persuasion. Parties in negotiation may be persuaded best by the arguments made by themselves. Answering questions creates an opportunity to the receivers to know themselves including learning about their own interests and priorities in the context of the interests and priorities of the other. Such changes of mind have an especially good chance to persist.

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