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Conflict Negotiation: Psychological Dynamics

Negotiation conflict can often stem from psychological reasons that can make a negotiator
become defensive. Discover the reasons for this conflict and how you can learn to de-fuse
negative behaviour during your negotiations.

"It is easier to perceive error than to find the truth, for the former lies on the surface and is
easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it."
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Freud is alleged to have said, "A cigar is just a cigar". Yet at the negotiation table, differences in
perception are too often distorted and magnified by the emotions and biased outcomes of one or
more parties. Negotiation often needs to go through a conflict resolution or problem solving
stage before it can be creative and grow opportunities. This article shares some of the
background and lessons negotiators need to unravel the knots that too often tie up our

Defence Mechanisms Used in the Negotiation Process
There are two ways to view how conflict can arise during a negotiation.

1. A negotiator's internal state will directly affect the interaction between the parties at the
negotiation table.
2. The interaction that occurs at the table, will have a direct affect on the negotiating parties.

A conflict or dispute causes us to become defensive or offensive. This is not dissimilar from the
"fight or flight" response we have in our more primitive brain. Our reaction as people is complex.
Nonetheless, we all respond with a "cause and effect" reaction when confronted with a conflict
during our business negotiations.

Here are some of the most prevalent of the defence mechanisms, used by negotiators in a conflict

 Denial - Like the proverbial ostrich with their head stuck in the sand, we do not
acknowledge the existence of any conflict. If we don't think about it, it doesn't exist or
will go away.
 Avoidance - Just like it sounds, we know the conflict is there, but we don't want to deal
with it, and make or find excuses to not deal with it..
 Projection - Permits us to deny our own faults by projecting these faults onto others. An
example would be, "You're at fault, not me". Signs that indicate that projections are often
based on vulnerability, helplessness, being over vigilant, hostility or suspicion. A person
responds by either withdrawing or attacking.

such as anger out on the person we are in dissent with.A person will respond to the conflict by blowing it out of proportion. 2.  Rationalising and minimising the scope of the conflict . by becoming aggressive. a person might respond by adopting the traits or mannerisms of the person with whom they are engaged in conflict. Reflecting Blame . this response acts as a suitable retreat. is a habitual response he has developed from early on in his formative development.A person distances themselves emotionally from the conflict. In a way.  Escalation of the importance of the conflict . Provides a Measure of Excitement .Acting defensively may also be used to receive moral support from others. Another form of displacement is to attack the person by changing the original topic of conflict. To Gain Approval from Others . we take it out on another person. and appearing too needy for attention. by concentrating on details or unrelated details. or carrying the proverbial "chip on the shoulder". dissatisfied or engaged in internal conflict.Many of the reasons an individual may respond in a defensive manner. This behaviour becomes comfortable for them when faced with unknown situations.This allows an individual to place their own problems or inadequacies on the other person so they avoid altering their own behaviour. .  Reaction Formation . we can take proactive steps to change the conflict into a problem-solving venue instead. If we find that either we or our counterparty is reacting in a defensive manner. Four Major Reasons Why People Engage in Irrational Behaviour Several of the most common reasons why negotiators may behave in an otherwise irrational manner include: 1.  Counterphobic . may also resort to a defensive response and use it as a stimulant to engage in conflict. To change their attitude might end up in a withdrawal of this support.By reacting defensively. confrontational. with some other unrelated complaint. the individual allows themselves to change the rules of the game should they be feeling bored. When we realise what is occurring.In this situation. by acting overly melodramatic.This defence entails our denying the anxiety we feel about the conflict. so the individual can return to familiar patterns of behaviour. the above may help in characterising the reason behind the defensive response. Habitual Reaction . We want other people to believe our immediate needs are more important. 3. 4. Individuals suffering from depression.  Displacement . or expressing their own needs.Rather than take our emotional reaction. or a possible loss of self esteem.

3.We must understand that we cannot impose our own resolution on someone who is in a defensive pose. Both Parties Must Believe . or with some measure of hostility. This does not mean we have to agree with their response. Negotiators must always strive to fully understand the real interests that lay behind the position. To unlock the defensive mould. by active listening while indicating we understand and empathise with the emotional basis for their defensive posturing. will assist in greatly reducing the hostility. then cooperation is unlikely. . we will need to alleviate their internal concerns by making them see. To do so we must recognise the following: 1. the other party must be shown.When a negotiated resolution is accomplished. self esteem. Cooperation is Key .Measures to Change Defensive Posturing to Mutual Problem Solving Once we become aware of the possible reason or basis for the impasse or conflict. There are many reasons why people respond defensively.For a mutually agreed solution to be found. They are then likely to become more amenable to working cooperatively. The other person must become part of the solution by being included. and believe that the other party will abide by any agreement they reach. By taking this attitude we are signalling we are willing to be open minded and responsive. Understanding their Interests is Vital A person's sense of identity. are intangibles that are often inherently non negotiable items. We have to engage in communication to better understand the underlying reason behind this behaviour.If one or both parties do not possess any hope for a successful resolution. Two Way Street . we can take steps to mitigate defensive behaviour to find resolution. Both parties must believe there is hope in resolving the conflict. 2. A cooperative atmosphere can only be engendered when both parties think cooperatively. both parties should abide by the agreement. the agreement will become shaky or not sustainable. Summary Conflict in negotiation may have a psychological basis that doesn't fully show itself at the negotiation table. they cannot impose their own proposal to resolve the matter. We can achieve an understanding of their interests. through a cooperative effort by both parties to find a mutual resolution. They too must adopt a measure of mutual cooperation. 4. Trust the Resolution . If there is a lack of trust. It always takes one party to act first by being collaborative. that we are interested in addressing their emotional interests. and personal security. Acknowledging that their defensiveness deserves considering.

. The Negotiators Fieldbook. By Morton Deutsch. Edited by Andrea Kupfer Schneider & Christopher Honeyman (2006). ‘The Interplay between Internal and External Conflict'.1.