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What is Conflict Negotiation?

Kerrie Main
Kerrie Main

When two or more parties or people have differing opinions, conflict negotiation is often necessary. In the business world, the conflict might be over things such as contract wording, terms of a sale or just differences in personalities or work styles. No matter what type of problem, the main issue typically is exemplified in a standoff, during which neither side wants to back down. Sometimes called mediation, conflict negotiation usually involves bringing in a third party to foster communication between the disputants, talking about solutions and creating an agreement that meets both parties’ needs. The most successful types of conflict negotiations are resolved with win-win solutions, which are resolutions that are mutually satisfying for everyone involved.

Many companies train their management teams and human resources professionals in conflict negotiation. There are several types of strategies and techniques used to resolve conflicts. Most people agree that the first step is clear identification of the issue. This step can be very important, because many conflicts are the result of poor communication and misunderstandings. Effective conflict negotiators are excellent listeners who are trained to hear what each party wants as the final outcome.

Win-win solutions help to resolve conflict negotiations.
Win-win solutions help to resolve conflict negotiations.

After the problem has been identified and the negotiator has full understanding of the motives of all parties, he or she can begin to look for ways for the parties to come to a compromise. This phase of conflict negotiation usually involves talking to each party separately to learn what they are willing to “give up” and the issues on which they will not back down. At this point, the negotiator typically creates a revised contract or agreement by incorporating the agreed-upon compromises. Sometimes, the actual meaning of the original contract does not change, but the particular wording or phrasing that might have triggered the conflict is changed. The mediator then presents the new draft to both parties to see if an agreement can be reached.

Conflict negotiation is often called mediation when civil matters are involved.
Conflict negotiation is often called mediation when civil matters are involved.

If a compromise is not agreed upon with the new draft, the conflict negotiation typically moves into a new phase of alternative compromises and solutions. For example, if party No. 1 wants Solution A and party No. 2 wants Solution B, the negotiator might suggest a Solution C, which might incorporate parts of Solutions A and B but often involves a completely different end solution. This way, both parties do not feel that the opposing party won the conflict or got its way. If the parties do not agree at this point, then the conflict negotiation typically moves into arbitration or litigation.

Discussion Comments


@Charred - The problem is that many employees don’t want to go to HR. They believe that if they go to HR then they might suffer some kind of punishment.

In our workplace we have new employee orientation where they go out of their way to assure us that you can take your concerns to HR without fear of a backlash.

However, that does little to assuage fears. Even if your manager can’t fire you for bringing up a concern, he can “recommend” that you be laid off when layoffs happen sometime down the road.


I think it’s important that HR manage serious conflicts in the workplace, especially if the conflicts are owing to differences in work styles or personality conflicts.

The reason is that in most cases HR can truly be a neutral third party, I would think. I worked at a company where two lady coworkers just never got along. One of them was the manager. Eventually the manager went to the director (not HR) and all three of them had a meeting.

The director was very blunt with the manager’s subordinate. He told her, “Do you like your job?” That is definitely not conflict negotiation the way that it’s supposed to be practiced in my opinion.

That lady broke down in tears. I think the manager and the director were kind of partial so it wasn’t a fair hearing by any stretch.


I manage an office of fifteen workers, and I sometimes have to be a conflict negotiator. I don't want anyone getting in trouble without having a chance to explain their situation, especially if it involved another worker.

Last month, I had two workers who were arguing over their workload. The files are up for grabs, so whoever has time takes whatever he can and works on it. One worker accused the other of not doing his share, and the second worker said that it was because the first grabbed all the work before he had a chance.

During the negotiation process, I decided that our system was at fault. I told them that I would start doling out the work myself, ensuring that everyone had an equal amount to do. This seemed to satisfy them both.


@LisaLou – I think that most conflict negotiators do what they do out of love. Many people serve as negotiators in their own families without even realizing it.

I have three daughters and two sons, and I often have to mediate situations in the household. It can be really rough when you have more than one side to things, but I always hear everyone out and come up with what I think is a reasonable compromise.

I usually end up with at least one or two unhappy kids for awhile, but they get over it. At least I give them options, rather than flat-out denying them a solution.


I had to serve as a conflict negotiator between two families in my church years ago. One family's son was dating the other family's much younger daughter, and they wanted someone impartial to sit in on the conversation about what they should do.

Basically, each family stated their concerns and what they wanted to happen. Then, they asked me what I thought.

I offered the suggestion that they let them see each other on supervised visits, only. Once they both were of age, then they could be free to date as they pleased.

Both families agreed to this, and it was pretty simple. Luckily, neither family was unreasonable, so that made my job easier.


My husband and his supervisor will be meeting with a conflict negotiator next week. I have hope that the mediator will truly be unbiased in his view of things, and maybe that will lead to some compromise.

The supervisor has been causing a lot of problems for everyone in my husband's department. He used to be just one of them, but since he has gotten promoted, he has been on a power trip.

The meeting is about the supervisor's claims that my husband isn't working hard enough. My husband has had medical issues that have slowed him down, and since the company can't discriminate against him for that, the supervisor shouldn't, either.

The mediator is someone from human resources who is unfamiliar with both of them. I think this could work to my husband's advantage.


@andee-- I completely agree with you. Conflict and (hopefully) negotiation in organizations will always take place. I've worked in five different organization so far, and conflict existed in every single one. What was different was the way that leadership dealt with it (or sometimes didn't).

The last organization I worked for was very competitive and most of the conflict actually took place among higher administrators. This was itself a problem because there wasn't anyone at a higher position that could supervise negotiations. So basically, what ended up happening was that no negotiations took place and the conflict was only resolved when one of the administrators left the organization.

This was such a bad situation but unfortunately, it happens all the time. There are administrators and employees who don't really know how to negotiate or sometimes the nature of the organization doesn't make it possible.


Conflict negotiation happens in many different environments. I'm part of a graduate program in International Conflict Resolution where we concentrate on International conflicts mainly between two national, religious or ethnic groups or nation states.

We even do simulations in class where we break up into groups where two of the groups represent the sides in conflict and one group is the 3rd party which is negotiating.

What I've learned so far from these exercises is that even though people come to the table with rigid expectations and worldviews, they also realize that nothing will be gained if a negotiation is not made. Getting them to that point though is truly the work of the 3rd party.

I think the 3rd party is most successful when it emphasizes what the groups in conflict have in common and also by helping each side to understand each other's point of view. That's why we always start each exercise by having both of the sides explain what their worries are and what they want from the other side.


It's interesting that most conflicts that reach the stage of conflict management negotiation are caused by poor communication. This makes me think that maybe we need more classes on effective communications in colleges. Or, more offices and other employers should train their employees on how to communicate more effectively.

I think good communication is definitely a skill that can be learned and would be very worthwhile for most businesses. Better communication between coworkers and could stop conflicts before they even start. This would also make it easier to communicate with other businesses and probably save a lot of money on mediation.


@indemnifyme - I think you got that about right. If there is a need for conflict management and negotiation, both of the parties are probably on edge. A good negotiator can help them be more comfortable and solve the problem.

I personally think that conflict negotiation is great when it can prevent something from going to court. Our court system is already clogged by many frivolous lawsuits, so if a problem can be solved by sitting down and talking about it and reaching a mutually beneficial conclusion, that's what should be done.


Working in conflict mediation sounds like it's probably a really tough job. First of all, you need to have a calm demeanor. I know I get anxious if people around me are having an argument, even if I'm not involved. This isn't an option for a conflict negotiator.

Second of all, a conflict negotiator needs to be able to make everyone who is involved comfortable. Neither party is going to honestly tell you what they might be willing to give up if they're not comfortable with you.

Also, I imagine a conflict negotiator probably needs to be an excellent problem solver to think up alternate solutions to the problem.


I think being a good listener is one of the most important things to be effective at managing conflict and negotiation.

Even though someone may feel very strongly about their way of doing things, they always appreciate someone who will genuinely listen to them.

If this is done in the presence of an objective, third party person, this can be the first step towards an effective resolution.

Even though the skill of a good conflict negotiator can be very helpful, people still need to be able to compromise.

If both parties go into the negotiation unwilling to compromise or see things a different way, it is going to be a long road.


@honeybees - The ability to help solve conflict issues between people is a skill that can be learned when someone is young.

When my daughter was in 5th grade, she was part of a conflict management team at her school. Even at this age, she learned some conflict negotiation skills.

These skills have been a benefit for her throughout her life. She is now an adult, and even though she doesn't use these skills in a professional sense, she still uses them in her every day life.

Being able to resolve conflict within relationships whether at work or at home can make a big difference. Just as there are many different personality styles, there are also different conflict styles.

Knowing how to work with people and see things from their point of view, without being judgmental, is a good place to start.


My brother works as a mediator at solving workplace conflict. He does not work for one particular company but is employed more like a consultant for many different companies.

Not only is his goal to get both parties to come to an agreement, but to also prevent arbitration. If a case ends up going to litigation, it can become quite expensive and a long drawn-out process.

Many times when a third party is introduced in a situation like this, it can help diffuse some of the tension. While managing conflict is never easy, there are skills involved when it comes to working with people to come to an agreement.

Over the years my brother has become very good at this and is usually able to propose contracts or solutions that will work for everybody. Once in awhile though, this is impossible and it will end up going to arbitration.


I have worked in human resources for many years, and have taken many training courses on managing conflict and negotiation in the workplace.

Working in the human resources department of a company means you become aware of most of the conflicts that happen within the company.

If these cannot be solved with their immediate supervisor, our department has to step in and help resolve the conflict.

Many times lack of communication can lead to conflict and once the lines of communication are opened up, it becomes much easier to come to a resolution that everyone can agree on.

Any time you have more than one person working in a department, you have the potential for conflict. Because every one has their own personality and ways of looking at things, conflict will always happen. How you negotiate it and deal with will determine how it gets resolved.

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    • Win-win solutions help to resolve conflict negotiations.
      By: NOBU
      Win-win solutions help to resolve conflict negotiations.
    • Conflict negotiation is often called mediation when civil matters are involved.
      By: Africa Studio
      Conflict negotiation is often called mediation when civil matters are involved.
    • Many companies train their management teams in conflict negotiation.
      By: Scott Griessel
      Many companies train their management teams in conflict negotiation.
    • Conflict negotiation in civil matters sometimes requires a neutral third party who is trained to diffuse emotional situations.
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      Conflict negotiation in civil matters sometimes requires a neutral third party who is trained to diffuse emotional situations.
    • Human resources are often involved in conflict negotiations.
      By: Jeanette Dietl
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    • Mediation is a more cost-effective way of resolving disputes than litigation.
      By: Rido
      Mediation is a more cost-effective way of resolving disputes than litigation.
    • There are several types of strategies and techniques used to resolve conflicts.
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      There are several types of strategies and techniques used to resolve conflicts.