Whenever we are confronted by a conflict, we have three sets of needs
to be negotiated:
- Substantive needs have to do with the "stuff"
of the conflict
often the problem that we feel needs to be solved.
- Procedural needs relate to the process of addressing
these substantive needs. Ground rules, for
example, are a process step that can help ensure that all stakeholders
feel included in a meaningful way.
- Psychological needs relate to a fostering a safe environment,
one in which people are willing to take the risks involved in honestly
communicating their differences, concerns and potential similarities
to one another.
In any dispute, all three types of needs are present and must be
addressed. . If we are going to really try to build a meaningful agreement,
we will need to understand how these various needs are present for
each person in the situation.
Consequences of Not Resolving the Conflict
Thinking about what will happen if we do not resolve the
situation helps clarify our needs-- "What are my boundaries in this
situation?" Rather than constraining our creativity and flexibility,
this analysis actually illuminates our priorities and, as a result, gives
us a greater willingness to explore possible solutions.
Alternatives to negotiating are commonly divided into three categories:
- Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) - what is the best
I can expect if we don't come to a negotiated agreement?
- Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA) - what is the
worst I can expect if we don't come to a negotiated agreement?
- Most Likely Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement - (MLATNA) - what
is the most likely alternative if we don't come to a negotiated
By thinking these through, we can understand how a negotiated solution
can meet our needs better than the alternatives and can clarify our desired
We cannot negotiate solutions to all of our problems in one session,
or even in one series of meetings. Therefore, we need to clarify our desired
outcomes from this process, and focus our energies on two or three priority
issues among the dozen that we feel are important. By doing so, we are
more likely to negotiate agreements that are meaningful to us, and less
likely to get sidetracked with tangential or petty issues.
Answer these questions (open
a printable and fillable version):
- Which needs of mine are truly threatened by this conflict?
- What are the needs that are most important to be negotiated at this
- If we are unable or unwilling to negotiate a meaningful agreement,
what are my alternatives?
How might these relate to the situation facing the other person(s) involved
in this dispute? (Would their analysis be similar or different? ___________________________________________________________
- When it really comes down to it, what do I want to happen as a result
of this process?________________________________________________
"Ground rules" are statements that reflect people's best intentions
regarding how they wish to treat one another in civil dialogue. They tend
to be present in many positive social relationships, and they are reflected
in ethical codes and "the golden rule." In conflictive, challenging
relationships, ground rules tend to be far more complicated, in part because
there is an implicit assumption that one person believes that the other
won't live up to them. In work teams, this becomes even more complex,
as several perspectives may co-exist in the group about 'appropriate behavior.'
The following ground rules are offered as illustrations in order to inspire
your work group to develop rules that are appropriate to your specific
needs and situation. Feel free to use them, discard them, add to them,
or modify them
what is important is that you identify ground rules
that work for all parties as you attempt to negotiate solutions to the
conflicts before you.
1) One person speaks at a time.
2) We will make a sincere commitment to listen to one another, to try
to understand the other person's point of view before responding.
3) What we discuss together will be kept in confidence, unless there is
explicit agreement regarding who needs to know further information.
4) We agree to talk directly with the person with whom there are concerns,
and not seek to involve others in "gossip" or "alliance
5) We agree to try our hardest and trust that others are doing the same
within the group.
6) We will support the expression of dissent in a harassment free workplace.
7) We agree to attack the issues, not the people with whom we disagree.
For more on meeting ground rules, see https://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/academicleadershipsupport/best6.htm