The principled negotiation model (win/win) (as described in “Getting to Yes”, Fisher, Ury and Patton, Penguin Books, 1991) seeks to establish a model or framework for, arguably, universal use; subject of course to adjustments for context (e.g. legislated negotiation, or cross-cultural contexts). 

The model assumes that two or more parties, even if acting angrily or adversarily, are acting in good faith. If they are not acting in good faith it is hard to envisage how parties will correctly identify interests, available options and value in outcomes. If the parties don’t act in good faith, the interaction is likely to be pointless, at worst, or leave value on the table and the parties in a state of ongoing tension.

The importance, then, of negotiating the negotiation and establishing a base of good faith is paramount. But even if we do that can things still go wrong?

Emotions are real, and if we have ‘skin in the game’ (e.g. we are negotiating on our own behalf) it is likely that our inner tensions will rise and fall in the discourse of a negotiation. So let’s take a situation where our negotiation counterpart displays outward anger. How do we interpret this? Do we equate anger with a lack of good faith, or bad faith? Can people express their emotions and still be acting in good faith? What of e-negotiation and the written language – is there a risk that written language is interpreted according to how it is read rather than according to the intent of the writer? What of good faith where the written word is interpreted not according to its intent? Does good faith then require clarification before reaction? All this might beg the question: Is ‘good faith’ an answer or a minefield?

In his 2010 paper, ‘Feeding the Right Wolf’, Jeffery Stempel eloquently raises the issue of mindfulness for negotiators and its importance in distilling what we experience and observe. Stempel writes:

‘Most people exhibit a range of good and bad behavior as well as a range of positive and negative emotions. .. Riskin captures this point brilliantly in his use of the Cherokee homily, in which a grandfather explains the range of human behavior and emotions through use of the good wolf-bad wolf metaphor.He explains that within him two wolves are fighting. The good wolf embodies “joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith” while the bad wolf embodies “anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”The grandson asks which of the two wolves will win the battle for the grandfather’s soul, to which he sagely replies, “The one you feed.”[1]

We might interpret this homily as it applies to ourselves and then commit ourselves to feeding the good wolf. But what if our negotiation counterpart is a bad wolf? The following passage from Stempel is insightful:

The most effective negotiators and mediators will recognize and identify ‘children of darkness’. This should be done not on the basis of stereotypes (e.g., all corporate executives are selfish, all government officers are untrustworthy) but instead based on the observed conduct of disputants as measured by objective factors. For example, if a disputant is repeatedly failing to fulfill preliminary commitments, changing stories, holding back information, bullying, dissembling, or failing to display respect for participants and the process, a reasonably non-näıve negotiator or mediator should recognize the disputant (or its agent) as a bad wolf.” 

At some point, we will almost certainly encounter a ‘child of the dark’ at the bargaining table. How do we then deal with them? If we openly criticise the person, are we too moving to the dark side? I would suggest that our own mindfulness and the injunction to separate people from the problem is something we can turn to. Negotiate the negotiation and clearly demarcate the substantive, process and people issues at the table. And if that doesn’t work, you can always walk to your BATNA (which you will have determined before you went to the bargaining table – right?)

P Raffles (Mediator)

[1]Stempel, J.W., “Feeding the Right Wolf: A Niebuhrian perspective on the opportunities and limits of mindful core concerns dispute resolution:, Nevada Law Journal, 2010, Vol.10, 472 at 488.