Negotiating is one exceedingly important practice in which the average individual gets involved, frequently unconsciously. Negotiation is a means of communication through which the individual attempts to gain concessions from a partner, opponent, counterpart or any other party. In most cases, the two sides are in conflict over certain interests, and hence, the process of negotiation aims at finding a means to overcome an impasse at which the two parties had arrived, or at best, to completely end the conflict between the two sides by finding a final resolution.
The process of negotiation could be a very complicated, depending on the type and size of interests that are involved. The complexity of negotiations also depends on the relationship and sensitivities between the two sides. For the process of negotiation to succeed, there are a few guidelines that have to be taken into consideration.
First of all, negotiation is a process of communication. Hence, it requires the exchange of clear messages through reliable mediums of exchange. The failure of the two sides to establish clear communication guidelines between them can lead to the failure of the process. On the other hand, when the two sides clearly identify the channels of communication between them (eg. Summits, negotiation rounds headed by delegated professionals, etc), the possibility of success becomes high.
Secondly, a process of negotiation should be preceded by mutual willingness of the two sides to end the conflict. In other words, trust should be established. Negotiation as a communication process involves fairness and trust between the two sides because the lack of trust will have disastrous results. Through playing foul in negotiations, one party can convince the other party to agree on disadvantageous resolutions, but it will not be long before the other party realizes that it had been tricked. Once this happens, the conflict will become much more serious as trust and reconciliation become very improbable. Playing fairly does not of course mean that both sides should open their cards to the other. Rather, it simply means willingness to abide whatever is agreed upon without any unfair arrangements or agreements.
Thirdly, during a process of negotiation, each party should know exactly what its priorities are as well as those of its opponents. When one party knows what its priorities are, it will be able to steer its path through the negotiations such that it will achieve the highest priorities while sacrificing those that rank lower. Similarly, knowing the priorities and needs very well enables one to enjoy an upper hand in the negotiations. For example, one might increase the number of demands in order to get more than was possible when the demands were fewer.
Although negotiations reflect the good intentions of two parties in a conflict, both parties usually make an effort to maintain the status quo or, if possible, to achieve better positions. However, this is not always compatible with goodwill and mutual trust. It is not uncommon, especially when negotiations reach an impasse for violations to take place, but even then, it is important to keep most of the work at the negotiation table level, particularly when other means do not pay off (for example, when the sides are militarily equal).
Most negotiation processes are successful because in the end a party can always give the other party sufficient concessions in return for what it wants. This is easy to achieve when the disagreement is about economic or other aspects where compensation is possible. However, there are many cases when emotions are very highly charged. In such cases, negotiation is difficult, if not even impossible. History is full of such cases: Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, the impeachment of President Clinton, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In emotionally charged conflicts, the two sides insist on their positions and are willing to go as far as it takes in defense of these positions. There is nothing financial or economic to lose. The loss is related to prestige, a matter of existence, and a conflict over honor. In the Arab-Israeli crisis or in the conflict over Kosovo, the conflicting sides viewed land as much more than territory. They viewed it with emotion related to historical existence, prestige and honor.
Negotiations in Northern Ireland in the Middle East took decades to start and it will be years before any achievements are witnessed. What is important to make such negotiations work are three important steps.
First of all, it is important to minimize the importance of the source of conflict. One way of doing this is by making both parties convinced that their conflict is very unpractical and destructive. The Palestinians, for example, realized that their conflict with Israel was leading them nowhere, and eventually, the accepted to negotiate. Milosovich, in a similar manner, agreed to negotiate with the Albanians when he realized how destructive and expensive the air strikes against Yugoslavia were.
Secondly, mediation in such situations is inevitable, especially if the historical enmity of the two sides prevents them from talking directly to each other. In the Middle East, no development in any peace process could have been achieved had the US not played the role of mediator, sponsoring the process and breaking down the differences between the two sides.
The most important aspect, however, is to help bring the moderate elements in both parties to the surface. When the radicals represent the majority, negotiating is a hopeless case, but with the moderates in charge, achievements are possible. Yet, this also requires building trust among the two sides, reducing tensions, expressing goodwill, and making sure that sources of conflict are treated one by one in order to bring enmity to an end.
Negotiation is a professional field in itself. It is a process that involves high psychological, social, personal and political engagement. It is also a process that involves communication for power and that aims at achieving positive results. Negotiation could be tough and tiring, but it is certainly much less expensive and demanding than going to war or going all the wa