Special Challenges of Multi-Party Negotiation, Part 3: October Surprises

by

Berton Lee Lamb and Susan K. Driver

A few years ago we were involved in a multi-party negotiation that had an interesting dynamic. Two of the parties in this negotiation were allies. Although they supported each other, one of those parties was more moderate. As the process unfolded it became clear that the more extreme party was really only interested in one issue. When that issue was settled the more extreme party stopped attending the negotiation sessions. The moderate party was not prepared for this change, and then struggled when it was perceived by the remaining parties to be extreme. Withdrawal of their ally was an “October Surprise.”

An October Surprise is not really about October; it is about surprises that occur late in a negotiation process. The term October Surprise comes to us from American political campaigns. What campaign managers mean by this term is that you can count on some kind of surprise late in the campaign. In the American election cycle that is October. The surprise might be an event, revelation, or opponent’s action that reflects positively or negatively on a candidate.

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Does Collaboration Make a Difference?

A study published in 2015 examined three hydropower licensing cases that were characterized as having high, medium, and low collaboration. The author, Nicola Ulibarri, found that high collaboration resulted in “jointly developed and highly implementable operating regimes designed to improve numerous resources, while low collaboration resulted in operating requirements that ignored environmental concerns raised by stakeholders and lacked implementation provisions” (abstract).

Although Ms Ulibarri’s findings are based on a sample size of three cases, her findings are helpful. She concludes that a “full suite of collaborative dynamics appears necessary” for success (p. 17). This suite includes: trust, principled negotiation, and leadership. Moreover, success depends on “the extent and quality of collaboration.”

Source: Nicola Ulibarri (2015) “Tracing Process to Performance of Collaborative Governance: a comparative Case Study of Federal Hydropower Licensing.” Policy Studies Journal vol 00, No. 0 (Open access article). Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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Do Negotiators Adapt their Message to Communicate with Competing Parties?

In a recent article appearing in Policy Science  Political Scientists Mark McBeth, Donna Lybecker and James Stoutenborough examined the reasons why negotiators might switch between “personal message choice” and “public communication choice.” They describe public communication choice as a message that takes into account how the audience might best receive it.

These scientists found that 53% of negotiators did not switch their communication choice. In other words, more than half of those studied chose to stick with their preferred narrative.

One important factor suggested by the researchers to explain why negotiators did decide to switch away from their preferred narrative is the recognition that “there was a difference between themselves and the wider public.”  Age was another factor. Young people were also found to be more likely to switch. Switching narrative also sometimes appeared to be a strategy choice.

The scientists identified a tension that exists when parties decide whether or not to tailor their message to fit the culture of their audience. When making this decision negotiators must weigh the importance and ethics of discussing options in a language that is culturally sensitive to other groups. Changing the message away from personal preference might promote discussion but tailoring the message to an audience might be an attempt to “sell” a preferred option.

Source: McBeth, Mark K., Donna L. Lybecker, James W. Stoutenborough.  2016.  “Do stakeholders analyze their audience? The communication switch and stakeholder personal versus public communication choices,” Policy Sciences.  doi: 10.1007/s11077-016-9252-2

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Should Mediators “Evaluate?”

Here is a quote from a blurb that recently appeared in the International Chamber of Commerce webpage:

“..the benefit of mediation was seen as lying in the mediator’s ability to look beyond the polarised positions of the parties and find middle ground by analysing the parties’ positions and making each reflect on its own and the other’s position.”

Should a mediator analyze the parties’ positions and present the results of that evaluation? If so, when should the mediator do this? Continue reading

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The Role of a Mediator

A blog post by Katherine Graham about the role of a mediator recently came across my desk. Ms. Graham makes a good point that mediators should avoid the very natural tendency to pull the parties toward a solution.

She writes “…only when parties are willing to talk about themselves–to make themselves visible–is the [discussion] transformed into meaningful words.” (Page 2) With that observation in mind she tells us that the best mediators are humble and create a space in which the parties are invited to be kind, open, and empathetic.

You can find this article and others at www.mediate.com/articles

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“Core Competencies” is a Popular Article on ResearchGate

“Core Competencies for Natural Resource Negotiators” by Shana Gillette and Berton Lee Lamb reached the milestone of more than 50 downloads from researchgate.net. Click here to view and download the article.

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Effective Communication: Using Context

This is advice we often hear: “When you are actively listening, give the speaker feedback so they know you hear them.” There are many variations on this advice. Sometimes experts tells us to say, “What I hear you saying is…” or ask “Is this the point you are making…?”

In his book Why Didn’t You Say that in the First Place? Richard Heyman tells us why doing this is important. He also provides two suggestions about giving feedback while helping to clarify the conversation. Giving feedback is important, Heyman says, because understanding is all about shared context. Often times we assume we know what a speaker is saying. But that can be dangerous because we may be hearing in a context different from what the speaker is saying. We need to clarify the context. Here is a humorous example from his book that underscores the point:

“Physician: ‘Have you ever had a history of cardiac arrest in your family?’

Patient: We never had no trouble with the police.

Physician: How about vericose veins?

Patient: Well, I have veins, but I don’t know if they’re close or not.'” (Page 26)

Here are two concrete ways to give feedback (and a few thoughts about them): First, Heyman suggests paraphrasing. In this example, a listener might say “If I hear you right,…” then cast the thought in language that makes sense to the listener. If this paraphrase misses the point (as it very likely will!) The listener can try again, beginning with “Oh, I see. Is this what you meant?”

This is certainly a tried and true approach to active listening. Although it is frequently recommended, often used, and can be effective, paraphrasing requires skill and practice. One important thing about paraphrasing is that the listener must be sincere. Otherwise, the speaker may very quickly decide that something manipulative is going on.

Second, Heyman suggests telling a story. Everyone can remember a time when they have tried to explain something only to have the listener say “Oh, that reminds me of a time when something just like that happened.” But often the listener proceeds to tell a story that is almost unrelated to the point. When we are telling a story in response to a speaker we want to listen so carefully that we are able to pick out the two or three main points the speaker is making before choosing an anecdote that addresses those points.

Storytelling can clarify the context of the conversation and build a bond between the speaker and listener. But stories should be carefully chosen because we are all too familiar with stories that are merely self-serving and do little to clarify the context. In some instances irrelevant stories might actually offend.

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Lessons from Diplomacy: Learning the Discipline of Negotiation

What can we learn from the practice of diplomacy that will help us negotiate? Whether it is natural resources, workplace conflict, or local policy disputes there are some golden rules to help us.

The Public Diplomacy Council recently published an essay by retired diplomat Donald Bishop who gave six rules that I summarize:

1. Take it all in. Be disciplined to read both sides of the question. You might extend this rule to “read all sides” because in most of our negotiations are not simply two-sided. Be sure to read all the documents.

2. Audit your own partisanship. Test yourself to check whether your support for one side is getting in the way of the negotiation.

3. Practice non-partisanship with careful referents. The author uses the example of never referring to one of our Presidents by using only their last name, but always including the title. For example, it is always President Bush, never Bush. Similarly, when referring to testimony by an opposing scientist, we should say “Dr. Jones” or “Professor Smith.”

4. Avoid partisan non-verbals. The author advises, “When discussing events and issues, don’t wince, roll your eyes, or adopt a sarcastic tone.  Rely on words.”

5. Just the facts. A good negotiator knows the facts and sticks to them: “Command of the facts demonstrates your knowledge, reins in wild thinking, and gives confidence….”

6. Model the America we all want. Perhaps the author gives his best advice when he tells us: “We have all heard individuals with opposing views make the case for civility, for nonpartisanship, for respect, … for enduring values, for transparency, for the long view.  As the old hymn says, ‘let it begin with me.'”

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Making the Process Work–Facilitation

“In control but not the judge.” This is how one facilitator described his role in a restorative justice meeting (Borton, 2013). This description is a classic statement about the role of a facilitator.

In Borton’s study, facilitators agreed on the mechanics of meeting management, including the importance of making the meeting happen, preparing the parties, and establishing meeting guidelines. “Making meetings happen required working out schedules and other logistical details. It also sometimes meant persuading parties to participate by being persistent and talking (with the parties) who were on the fence” (Page 201). Preparing the parties involved asking questions, hearing the stories of the parties, and explaining how the meeting would work. Facilitators used their pre-meeting interactions with the parties to gauge the kind of meeting that would be effective and work out–with the parties–the “little nitty gritty” issues that could make the meeting go more smoothly.

In moderating the meetings themselves, facilitators had to balance two factors: First was the need to develop relationships–through being self-aware, open, and empathetic–so that they could direct communication among the parties without determining the outcomes. Second was the the importance of understanding the needs of each party and making sure the parties were prepared to discuss those needs. Both of these factors are important in helping the parties reach agreements and establishing relationships for future interactions.

Facilitators help the parties reach agreement, but lets reflect on the word “control” that was used by one of the respondents in Borton’s study. Of course, a facilitator cannot control the behaviors of the parties. What the facilitator can do is ensure that the process guidelines and norms are understood and followed by the parties. The facilitator can also help the parties keep on track, especially if a good understanding of the parties’ needs has been developed. The parties make the decisions but the facilitator manages the process.

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The Power of Collaboration

We often hear about the power of collaboration. It is good to find examples. One example appeared in a recent issue of Public Administration Review. The short article by David Wang is entitled “A Simple Lesson about the Power of Collaboration.” He describes a collaboration among farm workers, growers, and buyers. The lessons:

1. Have a vision for how the collaboration could work (How would this collaboration look if it were productive?),

2. Stick with that vision over the long-run (You may have to make adjustments along the way but try to make your vision a reality),

3. Receive some outside support (Identify and nurture relationships with your allies),

4. Build trusting relationships (Trustworthiness).

You can find the article on page 444 of Volume 74, Issue 4.

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