Transformative Negotiation

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Transformative Negotiation
Although principled negotiation is a practical approach that can be used in many different circumstances, it is focused on the interests of individuals rather than the good of relationships. It treats the conflict to be negotiated as essentially a conflict about interests rather than about differing emotional needs and values. However, some conflicts involve long lasting relationships, and the issues under dispute may involve different values and deep needs. The conflict may involve the very identities of the parties and generate emotions that destroy friendships and provoke enmity. In the history of the United States this was true of the conflict between Hamilton and Madison that ruptured the Federalist program and led to the development of political parties, of the conflict over slavery that led to the civil war, and of the current conflicts over abortion and homosexual marriage. It is often true when ethnic conflicts are involved. The Israelis and Palestinians, for example do not simply have conflicting interests concerning security and sovereignty, but different cultures, and issues about the identity of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. Such conflicts often have a history that results in structural changes that perpetuate the conflict. These involve both psychological transformations and changes in group and community dynamics. The psychological changes that occur involve the development of negative attitudes and beliefs about the other, the development of competitive and hostile goals, and de-individuation and dehumanization. As the conflict develops, an intensely negative image of the other begins to develop, the other becoming regarded as immoral, inhuman, evil. When groups are involved, they become polarized. They become increasingly extreme in hostile attitudes, develop norms that resist compromise, and contentious group goals that contribute to in-group solidarity at the expense of the out-group. They select militant leaders, become more liable to the problems of “groupthink” and the development of militant subgroups. The entire community may become polarized as members are forced to choose sides and neutrality becomes impossible without one’s loyalty becoming questioned. [See Pruitt, Rubin, and Kim’s Social conflict: Escalation, stalemate, and settlement]

To meet these problems “transformative” negotiation focuses on the negotiating process as a way of sharing underlying needs as well as interests. Such negotiations require developing deeper levels of trust and, when successful, involve a transformation of relationships and identity so that definitions that reflect enmity or involve devaluations of the other are no longer aspects of one’s identity. This sort of negotiation is based on the idea that people have fundamental emotional needs that are involved in their relationships with others. These include a need for security that one will not be attacked, for recognition, respect, autonomy, and identity. When these emotional needs are acknowledged and directly addressed they may lay a foundation for subsequent practical negotiations. When dealing with intractable conflicts, even a brief discussion of such needs may be helpful. For example, in one study Jewish and Arab students were given the task of trying to negotiate a solution for the disputed control of Jerusalem. When they used a method that asked them to identify needs and fears about identity, recognition and security before they attempted to generate ideas for mutual satisfaction, they became less pessimistic about the conflict and showed more positive attitude changes towards one another. [for example, see Bush and Folger’s The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict]

Basic needs may become threatened in conflict situations, and when this occurs people become afraid or ashamed, and prone to develop a hatred of the other. The development of rage and hatred seems particularly likely when feelings of shame are not recognized and acknowledged, If shame is acknowledged by referring to one’s insecurity, separateness, and powerlessness, then connections of solidarity and trust can be built. However, shame is often unacknowledged. When it is bypassed, it involves rapid thoughts that occur with little feeling, and are accompanied by hostility or withdrawal from the other in ways that mask the shame. The unacknowledged shame feeds upon itself, so that people may become ashamed that they are ashamed, and develop a panic state, or a humiliated fury. Often people mask their shame by becoming angry at whoever has provoked the shame, and such shame-anger loops may be at the heart of many destructive conflicts. The shame-anger loop may account for the need for vengeance (which restores a deflated ego) and may be at the heart of national strategies involving deterrence or unprovoked attacks that avoid the shameful danger of appearing weak. When conflicts between individuals lead one person to make a statement that may provoke shame, a skillful mediator may step in to reframe the hostile statement, diffuse the situation and avoid the shameanger cycle. Alternatively, such cycles may be prevented by the techniques used in problem solving workshops.