Chapter 2

Resolving Conflicts

Resolving Conflicts

Negotiation Skills

Resolving Conflicts


Mary Vachon’s work reminds us that communication difficulty and conflict with colleagues is the number one source of stress within health care professionals. It is not what patients and their families’ demand of us or the government’s inability to understand what providing excellent care is all about. Our principal source of stress is within our own disciplines and between disciplines.

How do you resolve conflicts? There are several questions that must be asked first:

Does everyone involved recognize that a conflict exists or is it just you who wants someone else to change their ways to make your life easier or more enjoyable?

If everyone involved does recognize that a conflict exists are they as committed as you to resolving that conflict? If not, you have to find something that the others will see as a benefit to them to help you resolve the conflict.

Is someone else causing the conflict or are you also a reason for that conflict? (Conflict is usually not a one-sided problem.)

Do you recognize that you resolve problems for yourself first and for other people second?

Do you recognize that you always have control over how you respond to a conflict and that sometimes your response includes making small changes versus big ones or making the decision to leave the work situation yourself?

Whether conflicts are large or small you must understand that other people are not likely to change their personalities or behaviors just to please you. There must be clear benefits for people to change themselves in the same way that you have to believe that changes you make will benefit or improve yourself. Anyone who changes their personality or behavior just to please someone else will usually become resentful about those changes.

As a social worker, I spend my life trying to bring about change in the way people think, feel and behave. Palliative Care is ripe with conflict because of this ongoing change. I always say to my students who encounter conflict and are discouraged by it that they should embrace it, for with every conflict you build a team, a program and get that much closer to changing public opinion and perhaps policy. If I see conflict as a personal attack on me alone, which it often feels like, I would have given up long ago. I see conflict as an opportunity to get to the root of the issues. To do this with compassion and conviction is a skill that must develop over time. To do this with dignity and a gentle voice is for me to reside in the eye of the storm I find myself in.

Michèle Chaban

There will always be personality differences between people that can cause difficulties. People will not (and often, cannot) change their basic personalities. (Ask newly married couples who thought their spouse would change their habits for them out of love.) Since personality conflicts will always exist we must concentrate on looking at specific behaviors people use versus evaluating their personalities.

Behaviors can be changed or modified if the other person knows how they affect you. When all is said and done, you will not like everyone you work with; nor do you have to. You should be able to respect or at least tolerate most people and still achieve job satisfaction.

In this section we will present some general background information on what can cause conflicts, what types of conflict there are and specific methods to help resolve conflicts.

The comment I get most often when I present conflict resolution workshops is: "All this information is wonderful but it just won't work in my case. I've tried everything but they just won't change. I'm powerless." No one is powerless. We cannot resolve all conflicts but we can solve many more than we think. When someone says, “I’ve tried everything!”, I ask some questions (like the ones at the beginning of this chapter) to see if they really have tried everything. If they haven’t, I try to give them suggestions like the ones in this chapter. If a conflict cannot be resolved, I help people choose a different way to respond to the conflict that is more comfortable for them. Read on to see what I mean.

Harry van Bommel

We don't believe that people are powerless. We always have the power to choose how we respond. Other people cannot make us happy or unhappy, angry or sad. If we have a conflict with someone and we have tried everything we can to resolve that conflict in good faith (a key element!) then we have several choices:

Evaluate whether the conflict is a mutual problem between you and the other person(s) or is it really a problem that only you can deal with.

If the other person is not willing to make any effort to resolve the problem can you:

Ignore them and continue on with your work/life.

Arrange for either you or the other person to leave the environment where this conflict is taking place (e.g., can you transfer/fire them or will you quit and accept the challenge of changing your work environment).

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps lost his family during the Holocaust. He said that regardless of what horrors were inflicted on him during those years no one was ever able to dictate to him how he must respond. How he responded to these most difficult of situations was always under his control. He has used that practical philosophy to help people make real changes in their lives.

Viktor Frankl understood that sometimes you cannot change the circumstances you face because of major systemic problems. In these situations you control how you respond to those circumstances and makes those small changes that are possible to make such severe situations more tolerable. People can often still laugh, cry, join together, use their memories of the past, make their plans for future, and use their inner strength, to help themselves in these situations.

In the less severe situations that we often face we can certainly do many of the same things: laugh, cry, join together with others, use our memories of the past, make plans for the future, use our inner strengths, develop the love of our families and friends, and use a clear-headed analysis of what is really happening to us to make the changes we need to maintain control over our lives and our feelings.

In the day-to-day conflicts that we face and with the foresight to imagine how we will evaluate these situations 10 years from now, we can put our conflicts into perspective and decide how hard and for how long we will try to resolve the conflicts before moving onto greater challenges.

The principle of using your conflict resolution skills effectively is to participate actively in the process of using these skills, organize your skills, persist during difficult times, and be creative. The more effectively we use our skills, the more time we have to enjoy other parts of our lives.


The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary defines conflict as: "a struggle between opposing principles or aims, a clash of feelings or interests". Conflict can also be defined as an opportunity to make changes. All conflicts have opportunities built into them that allow people with vision to make small changes in their lives or historical changes for the benefit of the world.

The thought that conflict and opportunity can be seen as the same thing is enlightening and the basic premise of this section. Whenever people disagree with each other’s opinions, methods, beliefs or perceptions there is an opportunity to learn, to teach, to enhance your professional and personal lives. Of course, some conflicts are just a pain you must suffer through and forget but many of the conflicts (small and large) you face daily are opportunities. This is not a pie-in-the-sky belief but one proven by practical people. Gandhi used racial conflict as an opportunity to seek independence for India. Churchill, Roosevelt, Mackenzie King and others used World War II as an opportunity to change social structures within their countries. Children constantly use conflicts at home and at school to discover new lessons about living and playing.

Our Department of Social Work has trained in Brief Solution Focused Therapy. However, we have taken this clinical paradigm and used it as an organizational theory so we are often heard to ask, “What can I do to make this situation a little bit better?” or “What is it that needs to happen for this to be different or a little better?” It emphasizes a timeframe in the future. It assumes an understanding of the problems and concerns but engages the thinker at a level of solution.

Michèle Chaban

Conflict is ever present at work, at home, at places where you worship and socialize. Conflict can be present in yourself, between people, between groups and between organizations.

Conflict can be useful if it::

Results in solutions to problems.

Helps you to understand yourself and others better.

Helps you discover new and important issues and priorities.

Helps you to communicate more honestly and openly with others.

Helps you to get rid of anger, anxiety and fear resulting in a more adaptable and flexible personality.

Helps people to work better together.

Helps you to develop your personality and skills to every increasing heights of personal satisfaction.

Conflict is destructive if it:

Drains you of your physical and mental energies.

Forces you to concentrate on complaining and ridiculing people.

Reduces cooperation between people.

Causes you to diminish yourself and others and encourages further deterioration of your own self image.

Detracts you from working on your primary goals.

Taints your environment and reduces your quality of life.

People’s Working Styles

There has been a great deal written about people's different working styles or personality styles. The basis of most of this research and writing is the belief that all of us have a basic personality that does not change. Within your personality you have different "roles" you play with your boss, colleagues, spouse, friends, children, acquaintances, and people you have just met.

These different roles may cause some people to think you are the most loving and generous friends they have while other people think you are the most arrogant, authoritarian person they know. Many of our political leaders are examples of people fulfilling a number of roles (private/public). They are also people that we view differently depending on our knowledge of them and our values and beliefs.

In your organization, the staff may see someone as a shining light while others may think she is aloof and argumentative. This same person probably has friends who understand the deep convictions of her faith while others assume that her belief against swearing is pure snobbery. Others may see her cultural heritage as a great benefit in this multicultural society while others wished she would lose her strong "foreign" accent.

The differences other people have can be seen as a rich resource for learning or an invasion of those who don't agree with you. A useful insight is that most people have similar views about us!

What are the different basic personalities? Depending on what you read you will find varying viewpoints. Many of us have heard of Type A personalities; people who are ambitious, highly energetic, workaholics who suffer more heart attacks than others. Other personality types are people who enjoy family-centered activities and see work as less important. Regardless of what research you read the key point is that some people are generally more extroverted while others are more introverted. Some people enjoy making plans while others enjoy doing what is necessary to make a plan work. Some people enjoy working on detailed financial accounts while others enjoy supervising a large group of people. Some people explode with anger while others keep their feelings hidden inside.

There are no right or wrong personalities; just different ones. We all have characteristics similar to other people but to differing degrees. We all get angry, we all like some kinds of work, we all enjoy relationships with people and we all have our own dreams and hopes. Our differences actually make it possible for things to happen. We need people who like to plan, we need people who like to teach, we need people who like to do detailed work and we need people who are family-centered.

When people are asked which work style or personality style they believe is best they often choose their own style. People who hire staff often try to hire people with similar styles as their own. This belief that one's own style is best is what often leads to difficulty in getting work done well and on time. It leads to people judging other people's personalities rather than their behaviors. Imagine a team of four that are required to complete a project within 30 days. The same person has hired all four and they all want to be leaders. A common result is that all four can generate wonderful ideas of how the project should be done and all resent having to do the actual work required. The result: a disorganized project with each member believing his or her methods and ideas are best. Another likely result is that the project will be delayed as the four team members procrastinate in completing any tasks they disagree with. See Chapter 5 on Team Skills for more information.

Conflict Resolution Styles

There are many parts to a conflict. We can use questions to isolate some of those parts and therefore think of ways to affect positive changes within those conflicts.

What do people have conflicts about?

Differing on what the facts are

Differing on how to do something

Different expectations

Different belief systems

Who do you disagree with?

Conflicts within yourself

Conflicts between two people

Conflicts within a specific group of people (e.g., within a profession)

Conflicts between two or more groups (e.g., between professions)

What has caused the conflict?

Differences in thoughts, feelings, ideas, and perceptions about the same situation.

Job roles are not clear and therefore, people are not sure who is responsible for what.

Systemic problems: scarce resources, little time, or internal political difficulties. Many conflicts begin with systemic problems and many people throw up their hands in frustration as systemic problems are often the most difficult to resolve. Although this is true, there are many opportunities to make smaller changes that can affect the system!

The way work is organized, structured and divided may appear unfair or wasteful.

Where are you in the present conflict? Does knowing at what point you are help to generate ways to resolve this particular conflict?

Just before the conflict begins: a general uneasiness that a problem exists and will probably get worse.

People know there is a conflict but no one acknowledges it: conflicting parties have signs and symptoms of a problem but do not acknowledge its existence.

Discussion: people talk about their differences of opinion in appropriate or inappropriate ways.

Open dispute: the conflict is openly recognized and other people start to take sides.

Open conflict: rigid positions are taken by the people originally involved as well as other people who have joined in formally or informally. Conflict resolution is limited to a "win/lose" option unless facilitated by an experienced person.

Once you identify at what point the conflict exists you can begin to look at various strategies for dealing with that specific conflict.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

There are various strategies for resolving conflicts. Depending on the specific situation and who you have the conflict with (e.g., your boss, spouse, child, friend, colleague, or stranger), you will use some strategies more often with some people than with others. In fact we often are less likely to resolve conflicts with family members than with colleagues because we assume family is forever and doesn't require as much effort as our work relationships.

Avoiding Conflict

We use this strategy when we think the issue is not worth fighting about or if we deny there is a problem. We may avoid important issues because we are afraid of hurting someone's feelings or because we just "can't be bothered".

Giving In

We may use this strategy when it is easier to give in than to spend time resolving the conflict. We may be more passive than others or bored with trying to smooth things out. We may also be afraid of conflict or disharmony and, therefore, always give in to "keep everyone happy". We may decide that the issue is one we can “let go”.


Children often think their parents follow this strategy which is "I'm the parent so you have to do what I say." It is similar to people of different levels of authority in an organization or people who are more aggressive who say "Just do it!" This survival-of-the-fittest strategy may be very appropriate during an emergency (e.g., a fire); it is destructive in maintaining long-term working and personal relationships.


Compromise does not mean that everyone is happy. Usually it is used when two people have extreme positions and agree to meet in the middle. Compromising is often used in political, economic, arms control, and management-labor negotiations. If the end result is just a compromise then the parties will leave dissatisfied and this dissatisfaction will make the next negotiations even more difficult.

Problem Solving

This is the most time-consuming but most rewarding strategy for resolving major and minor conflicts. In this strategy people are committed to making the effort to resolve the conflict. People listen to each other and use good communication skills to speak openly and honestly. People may not end the conflict liking each other, but they will respect the other person's commitment to their honestly held beliefs and their willingness to discuss behavioral changes. This type of conflict resolution ends in a mutually agreed upon and beneficial solution without the people having to make major concessions. It is often called a win/win strategy.

Exercise #1

Examine a specific conflict you are having now or have had recently. Answer some of the following questions to help you decide on a specific resolution strategy.

1.Who is involved in this conflict?

2.What is the source of this conflict?

3.At what point is this conflict (e.g., just beginning or has it been escalating for several months)?

4.Do the others involved recognize there is a conflict?

5.Are the others committed to resolving the conflict? If yes, for what personal reasons?

6.What are several alternatives for resolving this conflict?

7.What can I do immediately to begin resolving this conflict?

8.What can I do to avoid or minimize similar conflicts in the future?

9.Are there any personal behaviors I might change to encourage more productive and enjoyable relationships with the people I work with?

Preventing and Dealing with Conflict

The potential for conflict within any organization is great because of: the constant need to communicate complex issues to people with different skills in expressing and comprehending language; the need for many people to work together as a team despite considerable differences in attitude, training, commitment, socio-economic background and personal competencies; and the personality differences between staff, clients and colleagues.

Perhaps because of my ethics background, I like to think of us as disciplines who have different practice ethics that we are bound to in such a way that we don’t often reflect on how they determine practice. For instance, social work comes from a history of social reform movements. We, as a profession, work with those marginalized in society such as the poor, the single parent the elderly, etc. We work to bring about social reform, looking at the tension between environments and individuals. Over the course of time, social work became integrated into the systems that were designed to help others. Now social work walks a fine line between being system changers and system maintainers. For those of us strongly committed to ongoing social reform, we are often the thorn in the side of those trying to maintain the status quo. Conflict can reside within the profession simply by the ethics driving our practice.

Michèle Chaban

For example, a staff member who has dedicated her life to her work clashes with a colleague who plans to quit as soon as a better paying job comes along. Their lack of mutual loyalty and respect may be the real source of the conflict; not the issue they are talking about.

Most conflicts, however, usually grow out of personality differences or petty disagreements. An ugly scene is more likely to occur because someone was slow to follow a colleague's instructions or because someone overheard a sarcastic remark, rather than a life-and-death situation which has put everyone on edge.

Preventing Conflict

The following are some techniques for preventing conflict:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have at that time. Few people get up in the morning with the sole purpose of making your life miserable. If something they do upsets you, assume that it was not intentional and try to talk to the person about it. Tell them how you feel when they do something specific. Talk about their behavior. Do not accuse them. Try to understand why they did something.

Use humor, laughter and play at work. Humor, laughter and play bring people closer together. It is hard to dislike people with whom you spend time laughing. Laughter and smiling are contagious and encourage an environment where people can talk out problems with a sense of humor.

Communication skills. Communication skills are critical for us to avoid and deal with conflicts. You must accept 100% responsibility for understanding someone else and making sure they understand you. You don't do this for someone else; you do it for yourself because it gives you control. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Courtesy. Courtesy is still the key to unlocking people's positive feelings. Saying "thank you", "please", and "would you please" encourages people to respect you and others. You can act as a role model to others who have forgotten the power of courtesy.

Participate. People need to see you involved in various aspects of the work at hand. Helping other people with their work in the organization is the best way to tell them that you respect their work. When helping someone with their work be careful not to "show them up" by doing it better or very differently. Helping them in this case means being an assistant in times of difficult work stresses or when you have a few free moments and can see that someone might appreciate your assistance.

Acknowledge people's success and your mistakes. A sincere compliment and acceptance of your own mistakes shows your honesty and your willingness to recognize excellence in other people. Be specific about whatever someone has done well so that your compliments do not appear superficial or just a public relations ploy. Also, avoid complimenting routine work as the other person may assume you are being rude. For example, "The way you typed those letters was very professional and punctual." may be interpreted by the person in this way: "I have been typing letters in the same way for 10 years and now he thinks they are professional. What did he think my letters used to be like? Does he think because he took a course in management that now he has to be nice to me?"

Often people who sue a hospital may do so because they are looking for recognition. They seek lawyers because the organization has failed to respond to a very basic human need. I think it is very healthy to say: “We are absolutely wrong.” Every lawyer would say that you cannot say that because it is admitting liability. But if it was said early on, what a difference it could make. But we are really afraid to say those things out loud. I am sure that is a prime motivator for some of the ugly legal incidents that occur. They want to be recognized and receive a sincere apology

Larry Lewis

Do not argue with or criticize someone in front of colleagues. Few things upset people more than being embarrassed in front of colleagues or the public. Always provide constructive criticism in the privacy of an office.

Gossip can hurt. Rumors hurt people. As fascinating as gossip may be to listen to, you must recognize that the information is probably inaccurate. Do not repeat gossip. If you respect other people's privacy they may do the same in return.

I think of gossip as storytelling but if it is mean spirited or sensational it is hurtful. Social work values a person’s story and tries to get to the concern underneath. Social work also uses information to look at the impact on people and systems. If one of my colleagues is ill but unable to let me know and someone did not tell me this, I may never know about their illness nor would I be allowed to respond at a human, personal or caring level while at the same time respecting their need for distance or privacy. Hopefully, the principles of caring and health are a part of how the “gossip” is shared. I believe it is the underlying intent that is the issue.

Michèle Chaban

Dealing with Conflict

Talk it out. If someone does something that hurts you, physically remove yourself from the situation to think clearly about what happened. Use this time to identify and deal with your emotions, identify the issues in the conflict, determine what you want to change, and develop an approach to deal with the conflict. Then use "I statements" to tell the person clearly how you feel when they do something. For example, "I feel like you don't respect my work when you assign choice assignments to Bill all the time". This is more effective than "You are a bum for not giving me that assignment!" When you have resolved the problem do not bring it up again in the future.

The Social Work Department has a history of a practice ethic that says if you have a problem with someone, deal with it. We think that we can’t ask our clients to communicate clearly, directly and openly if we don’t do it ourselves. Particularly in health care, I think we should try to practice what we preach. If we do not support the principles of health in all that we do, if we do not try to treat each other well, I believe that we become dispirited and the health care system becomes diminished. Particularly now, with so much reform going on within the system, it takes little or no extra cost to treat each other well even when we are in conflict.

Michèle Chaban

Get help. Sometimes a conflict cannot be resolved by some of the strategies suggested in this section. Perhaps a mutual friend, a supervisor or another facilitator can help people communicate more clearly and specifically without some of the emotion that clouds issues.

Ultimately someone may have to leave. When all the suggestions and strategies in this section have been tried, and have failed, you may have to recognize that your only alternative is for one of you to leave. If your difficulties are with a supervisor you may need to transfer or leave the organization (it is unlikely that they will leave). If your dispute is with a colleague, one of you may have to transfer or leave. If the dispute is with someone who reports to you, it is your responsibility either to transfer the person where they can be more effective, ask them to leave and help them find more suitable employment, or recommend that they seek outside counseling if the situation warrants it.

Hot Buttons

Hot buttons are personal triggers in us that cause us to react to other people's behaviors without thinking about what to do first. We may respond irrationally and powerfully. For example, someone has pushed your hot button if you react with instant anger when they call you a name you really dislike. Our brothers and sisters were very good at finding our hot buttons when we were children!

The assumption that many people have about hot buttons is that other people can control our behaviors. This is a belief that you can choose not to have any more. You always have control over how you react to other people's words and behaviors. First you must be aware of what causes immediate responses from you.

I find that it is important to know oneself, one’s feelings and likely reactions in situations of conflict. This takes some time for self-reflection--“what caused me to feel that way”, “why did I react that way today”, “what is the source of my discomfort with that situation”?” My best reflection time is often while waiting in traffic. It is a peaceful time that I can put to good use by reflecting over the day’s events.

Elizabeth Latimer

Exercise #2

List those words, behaviors and body language that cause you to react immediately and without thinking first. It could be something as simple as identifying nicknames that really anger you, situations where are you accused of bad work or blamed for things you did not do, or when someone points their finger at you or ignores you.

Once you have identified your hot buttons you can plan what to do the next time someone presses them. For example, if someone calls you a name you really dislike, use the situation to find out what purpose it serves that person to upset you. Rather than being aggressive or defensive, you can turn the tables and help teach the person a better way to get what they want from you.

Ask some close friends or colleagues what they think your buttons may be and how they might suggest you learn to reduce your instant response into something more productive. For example, ask them to give you a “sign” when you begin to react.

Helping Others to Resolve Their Conflicts

Sometimes in the course of your work you will be asked to help other people resolve problems amongst themselves. If there is some commitment between the people to resolve their conflict then you can play an important role.

Resolving conflict requires large doses of trust and willingness, mingled with mutual respect. Confidentiality of the nature of discussions is also important. These values should be clearly articulated and agreed upon before the team process of conflict resolution begins.

Elizabeth Latimer

If the others choose not to participate or cooperate then it will be very difficult to resolve the conflict to anyone's satisfaction. If this happens, more dramatic and autocratic methods may be used in the most just and fair way possible.

Some steps to try if the people with the conflict are willing to try to resolve the conflict are:

1.As the mediator, ask each person separately and privately to describe what the conflict is. You can use open and closed-ended questions and listening techniques to bring out the most important points. Do not permit people to complain about someone else's personality by using words like lazy, stupid, or ignorant. Limit them to describing what specific behaviors the other person uses and how that affects them, e.g., "They arrive 5 minutes late everyday.", "They do not follow the standard procedure we all agreed upon.", "They always call me by my last name as if I were in the army.", "They never give me credit for work that I do but only complain when I make a small mistake."

2.Get the people together for a meeting and summarize, as best you can, what you think the others have told you. Concentrate only on specific behaviors, not personality differences. Ask them if you have summarized their viewpoints accurately or if they have any corrections or additions to make.

3.Get the two to agree to what the specific conflict is.

4.Ask them whether or not they are willing to work out a win-win solution to the conflict so that everyone feels satisfied with the results.

5.Together or individually ask them to brainstorm all possible alternative solutions without judging if they will work.

6.If possible, wait a few hours or a day before reviewing all the alternative solutions. Perhaps the people have come up with further possibilities when they were away from the others.

7.Select the best alternatives that the people involved will agree to.

8.Either verbally or in writing, decide on an action plan which will define clearly what things will happen, who will do what, by when and how you can evaluate the success of the agreed-upon solution.

9.Make sure that there is a follow-up of some sort soon after you have made this agreement to see if unexpected problems arise. Also acknowledge any small successes in this process to encourage the continuing efforts of everyone involved.

10.If there was no acceptable solution for the people involved:

Make sure they still agree on what the conflict actually is,

Go through steps 4 - 9 again,

Acknowledge that for now you have reached a roadblock and that they may need some time apart before you can start the process again,

If the conflict is so great that there really is no real commitment to resolve it by the participants, other people will need to get involved such as supervisors or senior managers.

As a manager, conflicts are brought to my attention. There are discussions on how best to handle the conflict and what, in fact, are the client’s rights, the family’s rights and the staff’s rights and guidelines governing their behavior and, of course, the feelings about the situation. The first knee-jerk reaction is to point the finger of blame. The smart manager gets past that as quickly as possible and tries to collect the information—what really is the situation? Feelings are so entangled up that it often becomes a quagmire to try and resolve it. How do we deal with it? Has there been a transgression of the rules and regulations? If so, it has to be documented and disciplinary steps may occur. The public relations piece of it must look at whether the family’s nose is out of joint because of the high emotions involved, how do you reduce that and create communication that resolves the whole thing.

Larry Lewis

If You Have Conflicts with Your Supervisor

Whenever you have conflicts with people who have authority over you there are some extra techniques you might use. However, most conflict resolution techniques are similar to others presented in this section. Combine any of the techniques that you think will fit the circumstances of the specific conflict.

You resolve conflicts for yourself; not for others. You are responsible for resolving conflicts. You do not need to like the people you work with but you are responsible for ensuring a productive working relationship.

Use your supervisor's name in the way they prefer, e.g., first name versus Mrs. Smith, Dr. Brown, or Ms. Jones.

Set a time limit to discuss a conflict if you have no appointment, e.g., "I'd like to talk to you about 'x' for 12 minutes." Stick to the 12 minutes to show your respect for their time. If it takes longer, make an appointment to block out sufficient time. You may want to choose a neutral place to meet.

Pick a good time to discuss serious conflicts but do not avoid the discussion for weeks. Unresolved conflicts lead to more conflicts.

Write down some specific facts and points you want to mention. Usually we get so emotionally involved during serious conflicts that the key points are never mentioned.

Use specific examples of what is wrong. Rather than statements like "Jill isn't doing her work.", you might say "When I arrive in the morning I find that Jill has not filled in the name labels from the night before and that isn't fair. What can you do or what can we do to change this?"

If your conflict is specifically with the behavior of your supervisor, use "I" statements. For example, "When you criticize me in front of the other staff I feel very embarrassed and angry. You certainly have the right to criticize my work but could we agree to do that in the privacy of your office?"

Once you have agreed upon a solution, follow through with your part of the agreement. Set aside some time in the next few days or weeks to evaluate the success of the solution.

If the difficulties you have with your supervisor are irreconcilable you have several options:

Ask to speak to your supervisor's boss to get assistance in resolving the problem.

Ask to be transferred to another area, if possible.

Recognize that it is unlikely that your supervisor will quit first. Therefore, you may choose to leave the organization and accept the challenge of change in your career. As difficult as this choice is, it has proven as a valuable "push" to many people to re-evaluate their work, their career choices and the way in which they want to work. If you choose this option, plan for it. Get some career counseling and make some necessary and exciting choices, for your future.

If You Have Conflicts with Your Staff

Not surprisingly, the techniques for resolving conflicts with your staff are similar to resolving conflicts with your supervisor. The only difference is that you have a greater responsibility (as part of your job description) to ensure a proper working relationship within your area of control.

The tips recommended on the previous pages reflect a respect for the other person (the supervisor) involved in the conflict. As a supervisor you need to reflect that same degree of respect for your staff. Again, you do not have to like the people you work with but you do have to respect them as contributing individuals.

Some further tips (staff might try some of these tips as well!):

As the supervisor you have the ever present responsibility to acknowledge people's good work with specific comments of what they do well. Catch people doing things right and tell them that you will continue to do so.

If someone is very anxious and that anxiety impacts on the team, I think it is important to identify it at first but then continue to reinforce the quality of their interaction when they are less anxious. If I find them being anxious, I often say, “Slow down, take a deep breath and pretend you are someone else. Try to tell me in a calm manner what it is that you need to say about this patient.” Having done this with some degree of success, I then use humor to say, “…see what you are able to do when you center yourself!

Michèle Chaban

If you need to reprimand or criticize a staff member, begin with the criticism or a reprimand and end with a specific praise of their work. Never begin a reprimand or criticism with a compliment or praise.  That will undermine all your future compliments; people will expect a "but" at the end of all your future compliments.

Actively search out possible conflicts between staff members. Find out what is happening and follow the techniques in the section Helping Others to Resolve Their Conflicts.

If you know you have a personality conflict with a staff member, actively work out strategies with them to minimize conflicts. Honestly discuss some of your feelings and what specific behaviors bother you and get that same kind of information from them.

Understand people's work styles, cultural diversities and personal interests. Understanding how people are similar and different can improve the overall understanding of why your team is working very well or not working well together.

When You Cannot Avoid Conflict

As conflict is inevitable and not necessarily negative, try the following steps to put the conflict in perspective.

Remember that most conflicts are only a small part of your life and not worth the emotional energy you give to them.

Do something to try and resolve the conflict even if it doesn't work. We use most of our emotional energy during conflicts on anger and frustration. Instead, use your creative energies to understand the other person's point of view and how resolving the conflict can be mutually beneficial.

If your work is being criticized remember that only one aspect of your work is probably being criticized. Use this opportunity to see if your work can be improved or if the criticism is really based on other issues.

Get away from the conflict to cool off. Try and place the conflict in perspective to the rest of your life and also in perspective to time; will you remember this conflict next year, will this conflict change your life in the next 10 years?

Learn from the conflict. Whether the conflict is a win/lose situation or resolved to your mutual benefit see if there are things you can learn from it to prevent or resolve similar conflicts more quickly in the future.

In extreme situations, evaluate whether or not you may leave the situation. If your conflict is with a supervisor, you may be the one who has to decide to transfer or leave. If your dispute is with a colleague, one of you may have to transfer or leave. If the dispute is with someone who reports to you, it is your responsibility: to transfer the person where they can be more effective; ask them to leave and help them find more suitable employment; or recommend that they seek outside counseling if the situation warrants it.


People always do the best they can with what they know at the time. Few, if any, people wake up in the morning with the sole purpose of making your life miserable.

The more we understand people the more we respect them even if we don't agree with them.

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. So much behavior that we dislike is because of our own fear or the fear of others.

If you choose not to resolve conflicts, accept the responsibility of your decision. This may include leaving the circumstances where the conflict occurs.

When you resolve conflicts you do it for yourself and not for others.

Why do I always have to make the first move? It isn't fair! Resolving conflicts has little to do with fairness. It has to do with seeing the opportunity and satisfaction of resolving conflicts and with accepting responsibility for your share of working with people.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Axelrod, R. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic.

de Bono, E. (1985). Conflicts: A better way to resolve them. Middlesex, England: Penguin.

Frankl, V. E. (1963). Man's search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books.

Jampolsky, G. G. (1985). Goodbye to guilt: Releasing fear through forgiveness. New York: Bantam.

Kaufman, B. N. (1979). Giant steps. New York: Fawcett Crest.

Kottler, J.A., (1994). Beyond blame: A new way of resolving conflicts in relationships. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Levine, S. (1998). Getting to resolution: Turning conflict into collaboration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pascale, R. T. (1990). Managing on the edge: How the smartest companies use conflict to stay ahead. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Tjosvold, D. (1993). Learning to manage conflict, getting people to work together productively. Toronto: MacMillian.

Vachon, M. (1987). Occupational stresses in the care of the critically ill, the dying and the bereaved. New York: Hemisphere.

Negotiation Skills


Negotiation is about two or more people, or organizations, achieving their own objectives through a change in their relationship. It is about getting the best possible deal for yourself while trying to ensure that the other people get as much of what they need and want as well. Effective negotiations ensure a long-lasting working relationship.

Negotiation at its simplest is an easily understood process but one that takes continuous practice to perfect. Negotiation at higher levels and in matters of life and death should not be done lightly. People's beliefs run deep and negotiators are apt to run into distrust and strong emotions. In addition, when the stakes are high, such as in labor, legal or governmental negotiations, members may use negotiation strategies that are meant to trick the other party. Negotiators need to be highly skilled to work within these environments.

This section is based on the assumption that your negotiations will be with people you probably know and that your intent is to get results that will benefit everyone involved. If you are interested in more political or complex negotiations, we recommend reading some of the materials listed in the Resources section at the end of this section.


We negotiate whenever we try to influence other people's decisions through an exchange of ideas, money, material goods or power. We negotiate with others primarily for our own benefit and, in enlightened negotiations, for our mutual benefit.


Successful negotiators view conflict as normal and as an opportunity to improve a working relationship using the positive attitude of mutual benefit. In the long view of negotiations, these people try to do only things that will benefit a working or personal relationship while also benefiting themselves whether or not their actions are returned in the same spirit by the other people involved.

Negotiating for the Long-Term

Everyone who negotiates wants to get something from someone else. Short-term victories for one side (win-lose) lead to long-term mistrust. Grudging compromises (lose-lose) lead to anger or only short-term commitment to the agreement. Negotiating for consensus (win-win) produces results that are both ethically better, and good for long-term relationship building.


We begin all negotiations from our own set of unique beliefs and assumptions. For example, if we have limited education we may assume that someone with a Ph.D. is either much smarter than us or we may assume that they have no practical experience. Depending on our assumptions, we will negotiate either from a position of perceived weakness or strength.

Let us examine some specific assumptions that different people might have when they negotiate:

We must share values in order to get agreement.

To have a good working or personal relationship with someone we must always have their approval and nonjudgmental support.

The fastest way to get agreement is for me to know more than the other person.

We must avoid disagreement at all costs or else we risk losing a valuable working or personal relationship with the other person.

The most successful negotiation strategy to date has been the adversarial one used by lawyers and politicians. After all, we live in the best country in the world under this system so it must work.

I am who I am and no one is going to change that. I got to where am I today by how I do things, so it would be stupid for me to change now.

I don't get paid to make big decisions, so I leave negotiating up to other people.

For me to have a good working or personal relationship, I need to have my basic needs met while also being able to sleep at night.

If I just had the negotiating tools I needed, I could get what I want (or what I need)!

This list of common assumptions about negotiating often lead to frustration, confusion and unclear roles and responsibilities. Many of these assumptions may give someone the impression that they cannot negotiate or learn to negotiate. They are self-defeating.

The basic assumptions necessary for successful negotiations are:

You can learn to be an effective negotiator.

You can help people get some of their needs (must have) and wants (would like to have) met while also meeting your own needs and wants.

You can negotiate in an ethical way regardless of how other people negotiate with you.

The Basic Skills You Need

The successful negotiator has the following in their bag of skills.

Basic Communication Skills

Verbal and written communications can make the difference in making your points clear and acceptable. Basic communication is the ability to speak or write in short, clear sentences and to get ideas across to others.


Balance in your life (your physical, emotional, career, family, education, spiritual and economic needs). This balance means you can deal with stress effectively. It also means you can manage a negotiating situation better because you can put it into perspective with all the other important parts of your life. A sense of balance will help you avoid personalizing the process or the results of a negotiation and help you concentrate on being the most effective negotiator you can be under the circumstances.


Understanding someone's viewpoints and needs is not the same as approving of them. Countries constantly negotiate treaties even though their basic philosophies are different. The purpose of understanding someone else is not just to gain a negotiation tool, but also to take on an attitude of negotiating with someone rather than against someone.

Constant and Trustworthy

If you are constant in your behavior, fair with your colleagues, families and friends and firm in keeping your commitments to others, then people will be able to trust you even when they strongly disagree with you.


You may strongly disagree with a person's behavior or ideas without having to strongly dislike their personality, culture or beliefs. Such an acceptance may allow you to persuade people (over time) that your viewpoints are equally valid and worth their time to listen to and understand. Persuasion has longer lasting results than forcing someone to do things your way.

Some physicians may not see that it is necessary for them to develop these skills, given their historical role as “the doctor who knows best”. However, they will find that successful negotiation will help them when working in interdisciplinary teams and when outlining a treatment plan with patients and families. Successful negotiation can result in a “win/win” situation with colleagues and patients and increase compliance with the plan that is developed.

Elizabeth Latimer

Everyday Negotiations

Not all negotiations involve complex research, or back-and-forth debating over difficult points. Everyday we are involved in routine negotiations. What is important to remember is that some of the things we negotiate routinely can be done to the benefit of all parties. The benefits of the resulting cooperative relationship will continue over the long term.

For example, most stores will negotiate the price, delivery or services they provide if you ask. This is especially true with those stores that you do regular health care facility/team with and whose staff you get to know by name. For example, you might benefit from asking for next-day delivery (when deliveries usually take three days) while the store may benefit from a quick sale on a slow day. In addition, you may consider the store for future purchases, and they may continue to offer you better service.

When you go to your doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant and other professionals you can negotiate the amount of time they spend with you, the amount of information they help you learn, and the kind of service they provide.

When you ask for service from the telephone company, the electrical utility, cable TV company and others, you can negotiate the type and level of service you want. When you go to a teacher in your continuing education programs you can negotiate the kind of studying you want to do, the kind of evaluation you find most useful and the content you want to concentrate on.

Negotiation is an every day thing if you live with others in your home. Who uses the bathroom and when, who does which chores, what happens during emergencies, etc.

All of these negotiations are underestimated and often done poorly. In fact, many of us do not negotiate very much at all in stores, with professionals or even with our family members. Negotiation is often seen as too time consuming. Many people have also experienced failures or embarrassments when they have tried to negotiate in everyday situations and find it easier to accept service, products or relationships that are less than fulfilling.

A few tips:

Be clear about what you want to see happen. Decide if it is worth your efforts to negotiate for the results that you want. Some negotiations do take up time, but many will result in better services, products and relationships for you. If you are unwilling to try to improve things for yourself, carefully examine why. It may be easier for you to give in to the needs or wants of someone else. You may want to compromise and you understand that this negotiation result will probably not satisfy anyone. It may help you to study assertiveness skills so that you better understand your rights and responsibilities. Assertiveness skills also help you understand what the benefits and risks are of being more assertive in different situations.

Spend time actively listening and understanding (and we mean really understanding) what the other person wants.

Look at some alternatives beyond the normal answers you come up with.

Agree on something that is fair to everyone.

Make sure that your agreement also helps the long-term relationship you may have with the other person.

Beyond these basics there are many strategies that we will look at later in this material. The important point in everyday negotiations is not to harm the other person or yourself or to let anyone else harm you either. Mutual respect and mutual benefits are what lead to long-term negotiating successes.

The Negotiation Process

There are two basic models of negotiation: (1) negotiating from your well thought out position (based on what you need), and (2) negotiating a common agreement based on mutual interest and needs (what everyone needs). The first model begins with each side stating what their position is and negotiating over time some give and take in those positions. A legal battle, political debate or labor negotiations are good examples of this model.

The second model begins with people looking deeper into their arguments for the underlying need upon which they want action. For example, someone may start by saying they want a raise but what they really want is recognition for their work and more responsibility so they can continue to develop their career. They would not mind getting a raise, but that is secondary to their career needs.

Let's look at how the models are different. Both are used and the one you choose may depend on the circumstances, the knowledge of the other negotiators and what you feel most comfortable with yourself.

Negotiating a Position

In this process, you prepare by answering some of the following questions:


What are you negotiating? For example, do you want a raise, increased authority, a better sale price, home delivery, etc.? Write down the major and minor issues you are negotiating.


Who is involved? Write down what you know about the person, their organization or department, background, past negotiating history, their style, preferred tactics, etc.


What outcome do you want? The results are more specific than the issues listed above. For example, you may want a 5% raise, permission to authorize petty cash purchases, a reduction in the sales price by 10%, and home delivery by next Monday. What are the best and worst results you can expect and accept? What outcome do they want? What are the best and worst results you think they can expect and accept?


What specific items will be discussed and what are the differing views? You can research similar information that you have and that the other negotiators have that might be helpful. For example, consumer reports, budgets and financial plans, promotional material (e.g., brochures, flyers, media coverage), and minutes of previous negotiation meetings. If you are negotiating with people from different cultural backgrounds, find out what their preferred negotiation styles might be. Use your public library, people who have negotiated with them before and your colleagues to get help.


What does each side need (must have) versus want (would like to have)?


What is the negotiating environment like? Where are the negotiations taking place? When? Are there climate concerns (extremes in temperature that may affect people's comfort)? What kinds of time pressures are there?


What strategies can help you? What strategies can hurt you?


Have you considered the following factors: economic and legal consequences, supply and demand, time lines, long or short term advantages and disadvantages?

Once you have answered these questions alone or with the help of others to get their perspectives, you can begin the actual negotiations. These usually follow a fairly standard process.

The Phases

1.Getting to know each other. People may be quite genuine or try to play all sorts of "mind games" to make you feel at ease or uncomfortable. Good preparation on your part and skills in keeping your emotions under control will minimize any unwanted effects of such strategies.

2.Each person says what his or her goals and objectives are for this negotiation.

3.Understanding each other's positions. During this phase people try to clarify what they understand the other people are saying, if there is any give-and-take in the positions and try to identify major areas of agreement and disagreement.

4.People may outline, clarify, or summarize any possible points of conflict. Disagreements and conflicting views are not present in every negotiation. This depends a great deal on the working relationship between the negotiators and their long-term goals.
However, negotiations often do have this phase and it involves using some of the strategies outlined later in this material. There are games played, efforts made to change people’s positions, tempers flared and a sense that everyone is wasting each other’s times. This phase can come up time and again from the beginning of negotiations to months after an agreement has been reached.

5.Reviewing your own position and areas of agreement and disagreement.

6.Agreement or settlement. This is often a discussion with the aim of ensuring you get what you need (must have) while getting as many of your wants met as possible.

Returning to the next negotiation hoping to get even more for your side.

These steps are not always sequential and assume a great deal of preparation work in advance so you know what your limits are, who the other people involved in the process are and your understanding the difference between what you want versus what you need.

Negotiating Common Interests and Needs

The second model of negotiating begins with people looking deeper into their arguments for the underlying need upon which they want action. This model is most often associated with the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project and its founder Roger Fisher. They call this model "Principled Negotiation".

Their approach is not to use a soft or hard position that you add to or take away from during a negotiation. They concentrate on identifying common interests and needs and asking that people do not concentrate on their own positions until later in the negotiations.

Their criteria for measuring a successful negotiation:

1.The negotiation should produce a wise agreement, if agreement is possible. By wise agreement, they mean the agreement can be defined as one that meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable, and takes community interests into account.

2.The agreement should be efficient and workable.

3.The negotiation process should improve or at least not damage the relationship between parties.

This method is hard on merits (very specific and objective standards) and soft on people (encouraging mutual respect whenever possible). Rather than a mix-match of various elements of each party's positions they try to end with a single document that addresses the specific needs of all negotiators. They do this through four principles: people, interests, options and criteria.

People  Separate people from the problem. At some point the negotiators should begin working together on the problem rather than arguing with each other personally. You do not have to like the people you negotiate with but it helps to concentrate on the problem rather than the people if you want a successful negotiation. This strategy does not require that you trust the other negotiators.

Interest  Focus on interests not positions. Look for mutual gains whenever possible. When interests conflict, go to point 4. Avoid bottom lines during this examination of mutual interests as this prevents people from identifying unspoken needs that really are at the root of the negotiations. You need to understand that getting what you want does not usually mean that the other person or organization does not get what they want.

Options  Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. Using creative problem solving techniques can free people from their biased positions and allow solutions that go beyond the norm. Do not allow decisions or comments about which alternative is best. Use this time to concentrate on generating more alternatives than you normally would.

Criteria  Insist that the result be based on some objective standard. (Later in this material we examine how to define specific objectives and standards.) Using fair standards such as market value, expert opinion, custom or law to determine the outcome can allow people of different beliefs to agree on criteria without having to give up their strongly held beliefs.

In this model, consensus is built on avoiding fixed positions and concentrating on the specific interests and needs of the combined group of negotiators. It has been used successfully, as has the model of negotiating positions, from everyday negotiations to international arms negotiations between super powers.

The model you choose will depend on the circumstances, the comfort levels and knowledge of the other negotiators and the previous history of negotiations between the various people and organizations involved. Understanding both models is important to use either model successfully.


Strategies are tools you can use to change a situation including the important elements of timing, location of negotiations and the specific techniques of negotiation.

Different strategies are helpful in different situations. Consider both the short-term objectives and the long-term effects of any strategy. If you plan to work with the people for any length of time you must understand the long-term consequences of the negotiation to your working relationship. Mend bridges whenever possible rather than destroy relationships for short-term gains.

I think mending bridges means building bridges. A bridge built out of straw may look functional but in a strong wind it may not hold. Building bridges that will support the weight of our work is important and in this I believe there must be an element of sincerity, integrity and intent. Surrendering and submitting for the sake of avoiding larger issues is not helpful as they will only show up again.

Michèle Chaban

Expect Disagreement, Conflict and Tension

Many negotiations reach a point where people begin to think that they have wasted their time and there is no hope of reaching an agreement, for example, negotiations between unions and management. This is usually the most important time to review and take stock of what points you have already agreed to, what criteria for success have been identified, what interests you have in common and what areas you can choose to disagree on without losing the opportunity to get some kind of written, effective and amiable agreement.

Asking Questions

Good communication tools, such as asking genuine, open-ended questions, open people up to negotiating in good faith. Used as a technique to get your way, this strategy will fail. Used as a genuine means of understanding the other person's needs and interests, this strategy will encourage a negotiating environment of mutual gain.


You can either delay or avoid negotiating or taking any action. You can use this strategy to provide you (and perhaps others) time to develop a clearer plan. You can use this to allow time for people to express their anger, re-evaluate differing positions, allow the problem to remain until it changes by itself or accept the situation as it is.

The Unexpected

Sometimes doing the unexpected will help others see your point of view differently while you maintain your negotiating objectives. You can either do something that brings you closer to others' ways of thinking or take an opposite approach to highlight areas of differences. For example, you are sharing an office with someone else and you have been quite angry that they do not respect your privacy. The other person feels the same way about their privacy. In your negotiation to improve your working relationship with this person you have been discussing ways to respect each other's private space more effectively but with little success. One day you arrive with a beautiful, inexpensive floor plant that divides your private spaces elegantly and professionally. Your unexpected, kind gesture leads to further discussions of how you can both respect each other's privacy more fully and professionally.

I Win

You can (if you have the power) direct people what to do without accepting any room for negotiation. This strategy works in emergencies or in smaller disagreements where people do not have the energy to reach a negotiated settlement. This strategy is not effective for any long-term changes you may want to make.


Sometimes it is necessary to leave a negotiation for either a short time or a longer time. The timing depends on your power or influence and the type of negotiation you are involved in. Leaving may also signal that you accept a portion, or all, of a settlement but that you continue to disagree with the decision making process. Unless you follow-up with some changes to improve the situation and clarify your concerns, the end result will not satisfy anyone.

One Person Leaves, Another Remains

Sometimes it is necessary for one or several team members to leave a negotiation but leave one person behind to indicate commitment to resolving the negotiating issues. When some people leave, it implies you have some negotiating strength and the timing can permit people to re-examine their perspectives.

Do the Opposite

If you negotiate in a predictable way and it is not working, you may try doing the opposite to produce some changes in others' reactions to you.

One Thing at a Time

Try to limit your negotiations around specific issues of time, space, resources, inter-personal communication, supervision, etc. Trying to accomplish too much at once reduces the chances of effectiveness and getting results that are mutually agreeable.

Get Support

Find peers, staff or supervisors who agree with your general points and be flexible enough to adapt your negotiating style with theirs to add strength to your position. Understand people's styles, hidden agendas and consider the long-term consequences of such alliances.

Compare to Similar Situations

Sometimes research up front will find situations similar to the one you are presently negotiating. These other situations may provide you with statistics about possible successes or difficulties. The situations can be either internal or external and if possible both. Your research also gives you useful information and, therefore, credibility as a professional willing to go the extra bit to resolve a situation to everyone's benefit.

Mix and Match

Sometimes it is useful to use several strategies at once to increase the possibility of success and to allow others to pick strategies they are more comfortable with.

Role of Dimes

A role of 50 dimes equals $5.00. Sometimes it is easier to ask for several dimes at a time rather than the whole $5.00. Even within one negotiation you can get commitment to smaller portions of your wants and needs and increase your requests a bit at a time to get to the point you really want. It may be a little more time consuming but it can get you the results and commitment you want.

Asking For Too Much

A standard negotiating strategy is to ask for more than you expect to get. This is a common sales approach where one side asks for a large amount of something and the other side purposefully offers much less. Over time the negotiation results in a settlement somewhere between these two extremes.

Bottom Line Limits

Some aspects of your negotiation may involve issues or items that are non-negotiable for ethical, economical or organizational reasons. Be clear about these points to indicate your level of commitment and power over these points.


Often when reading about politics you will hear the term "caucus", e.g., "The Prime Minister met with his caucus to prepare them for the upcoming election." Caucus is another word for team and means a time for you to discuss elements of the negotiations with other members of your team privately to identify what is going well and what should be done differently.

Giving Up Some Control

Sometimes it is very useful to allow others to take some control over the negotiation to symbolize your trust in them or your willingness to meet them half way. You can also use this strategy to offer others a range of choices and give them the responsibility of choosing the next move.

Changes After Agreement

A common strategy by sales people is to imply that a sale has been made and all the costs incorporated. When everyone is ready to sign the papers, a few extra items are casually brought up. For example, in purchasing a car it is common, while filling in the final paper work, to be told that you probably want extended warranties, rust proofing, extra insurance, etc. Because it is implied that everyone purchases these extras the client often agrees and finds out that the sale price just went up by several hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.

Identifying a Strategy

Sometimes it is helpful to tell the others that you believe they are using such-and-such a strategy and that you do not approve. Catching someone's strategy, especially if it is based on secrecy and negative manipulation, gives you extra strength and credibility.

Keeping a Secret

Sometimes you will know something about a situation or person which could cause others in the negotiation humiliation or dishonor. If the others know you have this information but you keep it out of the negotiation it will strengthen your position personally, professionally and ethically.

Dirty Tricks

When someone uses intimidation, lies, psychological abuse and other pressure tactics there are several things you can do. Often people react by ignoring this illegal, unethical or uncomfortable tactic in hopes that ignoring it will go away or that it will help the negotiation end in success. Other people fight back in similar ways and the negotiation turns out to be a battle of wills and ill-conceived strategies.

It is more effective to recognize the tactic as unfair, tell the other negotiators that you have recognized the inappropriate tactic and ask them why they feel the tactic is legitimate or helpful. Again concentrate on the procedures used rather than who used them. Often just speaking about what you think is happening, in a non-threatening way, takes the power out of the tactic and allows the negotiators to get back to the real problems being negotiated.

Goals, Objectives and Standards

Often in negotiations it is necessary to write down specific goals, objectives and standards that the negotiators agree to. Without such written specifics it will not be possible to objectively evaluate the success or failure of the agreement in the future.

A goal is a generalized result one aspires to, such as the goals of improved client satisfaction, better health and safety at work, job satisfaction, or a more loving family.

"One of our departmental goals this year is to increase the level of client satisfaction with our services."

An objective is a statement of the specific results one wants to achieve. Objectives describe what the specific result will look like, when it will happen and what is needed to make the objective happen. In establishing objectives one also looks at what can cause the objective to not happen. Objectives must be realistic yet challenging and based upon the consensus and commitment of the people involved in reaching the objective.

"To increase client satisfaction with our services this year we will, by July 1: decrease the time to fill prescriptions to within 10 minutes of the request. Susan, Jim and Tyler will receive training on our new computer software in May to assist them in increasing response time by the July 1st deadline."

A standard refers to specific minimum criteria that must be met in order to accomplish a specific task over and over again. Standards are usually written out quantitatively and refer to such things as technical specifications of products, safety standards, rate of complaints, minimum requirements (e.g., procedure for medication administration, documentation requirements).

Use standards to write out what a specific job or action requires routinely or repetitively. This standard becomes the minimum acceptable performance expected of a person, process or equipment. For example, in job performance negotiations:

Staff requires minimum expectations for successful completion of their work such as: "Unit clerks must answer the telephone within three rings."

To reinforce expectations regarding safety, communications processes and technical specifications such as the standard: "All equipment used in this organization must be serviced every 6 - 12 months to meet the safety standards set by the government."

Use objectives to assist someone to reach the minimum standards for their work. For shorter-term projects specifically related to unit or organizational standards. For example, if a nurse needs to learn a new nursing skill: Susan will attend a workshop, complete the learning package and do a demonstration with the clinical educator within a month’s time."

Objective Writing

To write objectives that are practical and useful to all negotiators it is important that they meet what some people call the S.M.A.R.T. test:





Time-lines to complete objective.

Other experts use the R.U.M.B.A. test: relevant, understandable to clients and staff, measurable (quantifiable), behavioral and achievable over time and under predictable circumstances. Which ever test you use, be consistent in its application.

Objectives must be written so that it is absolutely clear to anyone (all negotiators, their respective departments or organizations, management and staff, and physicians) whether the objective has been met or not met.

Types of Objectives

Problem solving  To develop criteria and action plans to meet needs presented by a problem or opportunity or to improve substandard performance to an acceptable level.

Maintenance  To clearly state minimally acceptable levels of work performance within specific time frames and allow for changes to meet differing demands.

Innovative  To bring about long term changes or improvements within a unit or department based on general goals.

The following chart shows examples of unacceptable objectives rewritten to meet the SMART test.

Unacceptable Objectives                                                                                        Acceptable Objectives

To expand services to meet clients' needs by January.            To expand evening hours in the pre-op clinic to two evenings

                                                                                                       a week by hiring a part-time RN.

To reduce time lost because of injury appreciably by                To reduce time lost by injuries by 90% by next March 31

the end of the year.                                                                       using a part-time staff person for 6 months to coordinate new safety


To make sure that all hospital staff knows fire                           To provide staff with time to attend a 15-minute fire safety inservice each

safety procedures.                                                                           ember, where correct use of a fire extinguisher is reviewed.

Exercise #1

Writing Objectives

For each objective below, decide whether it meets the SMART criteria and if it does not meet the criteria, why not?

Rewrite the statements so that it meets the SMART criteria. NOTE: You can also improve the objectives that meet the criteria.

For example, "To centralize Health Records filing and issue departmental filing guidelines for unit clerks and secretaries."

Meets criteria?No

If not, why not?No time frame given for accomplishment.

Improved objective statement:"To centralize Health Records filing and issue department filing guidelines for unit clerks and secretaries by July 1st."

To improve our storage of hazardous materials.

To reduce unnecessary petty cash purchases significantly by year end.

Maintain current response time to physician requests for consults.

For Jim to improve his interpersonal communication skills by next August 30th.

To maintain the current servicing rate on clinical equipment of twice annually while decreasing the overall servicing costs throughout the fiscal year ending March 31st by 3.4%.

To be more professional.

To reduce absenteeism of staff.

To improve patient care on our unit.

Exercise #2

A Successful Negotiator

What makes a successful negotiator? Like all skills, negotiation skills are learned over time with practice and understanding. You are not born with them.

You can use this exercise in two ways. First, review the following list of characteristics of a successful negotiator. This will help you develop your general negotiating skills. Secondly, use this chart before every major negotiation to see which skills areas you may need help with during this particular negotiation. Each negotiation is different and, therefore, you will need some different levels of skills depending on the people, situation, issues and environment.

Regardless of which way you use this chart, write down whether you do the skill very well, average or not very well (either generally or for a specific negotiation).

Very well  You do it very well, therefore, there is no need to spend time improving this skill right now.

Average  You have an average amount of this skill but you need to keep up-to-date and/or develop this skill to higher levels.

Not very well  You need to develop this skill within the next few months to reach an average level of competency expected for your job.


For negotiations to be successful people must understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their own wants (would like to have) and needs (must have). You understand how you react under stress, what negotiation skills you do very well, and how to adapt your own working style to the situation. You understand your role in the negotiations involving a team from your organization. You understand what the bottom line is that you, or your organization, will accept in a final agreement.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Understanding other people

You are sensitive to the needs and wants of the other participants to the negotiation. Those you are unclear about you confirm through genuine questions of interest and mutual respect.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Mutual gains approach

Whenever possible you concentrate on negotiating in the spirit of mutual benefit that can be objectively verified and that improves your long-term relationship with the other negotiators. When this is not possible you do what you can to minimize any short and long-term negative effects of the agreement and look for opportunities to improve long-term gains and relationships for everyone.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well


You have the skills to understand past agreements between the parties, research their present wants and needs, find out, as best you can, the best and worst results that could happen, and know how to research quickly during the actual negotiations any areas of factual dispute.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Dealing with conflict

You have the personal stamina and skills to tolerate professional and personal conflicts during the negotiation. This allows you to concentrate on the desired end agreement rather than concentrate on personality conflicts with other negotiators.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Understanding negotiation strategies

You are aware of both legitimate and illegitimate negotiation strategies so that you will act ethically yourself and inform others if their tactics are inappropriate for the negotiation. Knowledge in strategies helps you avoid or minimize how others may try to manipulate you unfairly (while also adding to your own professional image).

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well


You know basic communication skills that allow you to speak and write clearly while also having the skills to actively listen and draw out other people's interest and concerns.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Speaking for your group

You can communicate your position and the position of the other parties fairly and concisely to people outside the negotiations.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Negotiating in a team

You can work with a team of negotiators using your knowledge and expertise to add to the total effectiveness of the team.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well


You understand what principles you use in negotiations and what principles (personal and organizational) that are not negotiable.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Asking for help

You know when to ask for help from other members of your negotiation team or from your own managers or executive before committing to decisions you are unsure of.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Third party negotiating

You can negotiate between people who have different points of view, different cultural and historical backgrounds than your own in a way that everyone benefits.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Problem solving

You can identify specific problems and use techniques to help the other negotiators generate alternative solutions creatively and effectively.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

Resolving conflict

You can help others and yourself resolve conflicts as they arise in a mature and respectful manner that brings people closer together, even if they dislike each other personally.

    Very Well, Average, Not Very Well

You have identified some of the negotiation skills that you do very well, average and not very well. Now you must design a plan of action to reinforce what you do well and learn new knowledge and skills to improve other skills. All of the skills listed above are learned. You do not get them when you are born. All negotiators need to identify what they are good at and what they need to work on.

How Do You Identify What Skills You Need?

Review the chart above with special attention to the second column describing specific skills. Which of those skills do you need to strengthen to help you become more effective under the different categories listed in column 1? For example: to resolve conflicts well you must know specific creative problem solving techniques, how to communicate your ideas effectively, how to lead a group in a meeting through a problem-solving process, and how to work with your own team in designing alternatives to the negotiating problem. You also need some practice in dealing with stress and incorporating appropriate humor. Once you have identified the skills you need to learn, you must think of how you can go about learning them. To help you, you may use other sections in this book as well as other literature, your colleagues, and your family and friends.

Use the sample chart to help you plan out what skills you want to improve on and by when. It is also important for you to write down how you know you have learned the skills and how you can prove it to a colleague or friend who is supportive of you improving your leadership skills. Writing these points out will help ensure you actually improve your skills. Just thinking about improving your skills usually does not lead to changing your behaviors or skills.

Action Plan

Skill                        How                        By When                                        Successful? (Check)

Negotiation Ethics

We often hear about ethics and whether or not negotiators have made agreements that are ethical. We read in newspapers and magazines everyday about people in politics, medicine, law, retail industries, education and others who have done unethical things in the name of doing "good" for themselves, for their organizations or for the good of all people.

How do you know if what you are doing is ethical or not? How will you negotiate if the other negotiators are doing things or agreeing to things that are unethical?

Most of us know when something is right or wrong. Asking yourself a few of the following questions will help you instinctively know if what you are negotiating is right or wrong and if the process you are using is right or wrong.

1.Is the agreement and negotiation process legal?

2.Would you want your family and friends to know what you are doing or agreeing to do?

3.Would you want your actions publicized in your organization's newsletter or in the local media?

4.Do you sleep well at night after the action or decisions have been made?

5.Was the final negotiated agreement fair to all to the best of your ability?

Would you like your negotiation to be used as a case study for how to negotiate well?

If you answer any of these questions with discomfort or uncertainty, then you may wish to review your negotiation methods and results.

It is also helpful to read books about work ethics.  Specific examples from your own type of work may help clarify questions of doubt about what is right or wrong.

A Negotiator's Checklist

Use the following checklist to make sure you are prepared for a specific negotiation.

___ 1. Know what you want (goals and objectives).

What do I want and need?

What am I willing to give in return?

What are the financial, legal, time and working relationship requirements?

___ 2. Be specific.

What is/are the important issue(s) as I see them? As others see them?

What information and power supports us?

How will I present my viewpoints?

What may be the areas of greatest differences, conflicts or perceptions?

What options already exist?

___ 3. Do your research.

Who will I negotiate with? How do they negotiate? What are their personal needs in negotiations?

Where and when will we negotiate? What advantages or disadvantages are there for both of us?

What are the implications of the negotiating process to us?

What individual powers do we bring to the negotiations?

___ 4. Be personable.

How can I best make the others feel comfortable and safe?

How can I establish a win/win attitude towards the negotiations?

___ 5. Deal with conflict.

What are our major points of differences (see point 2 above)?

How will I know what the others really need versus what they want?

How can I adequately respond to their needs?

___ 6. Win/win.

What strategies will help me meet my needs and wants while providing the others with the benefits they need and want?

What am I prepared to give up (bottom line)? Under what circumstances?

What do I expect in return?

___ 7. Agreement in principle. Make sure the agreement is written in standards and objectives that can be evaluated for success or failure after a pre-determined time.

How formal must the agreement be, (in written letter/memo, contract, using lawyers)?

Who else must approve? How long will this take?

What follow-up steps are necessary to implement the agreement?


Negotiation is about changing a relationship between two or more people or organizations. It is about getting the best possible deal for yourself while trying to ensure that the other people get as much of what they need and want as well to ensure a long-lasting working relationship.

Negotiation for some people is a game and you win when you get most or everything that you want regardless of what the other people get. For others, negotiation is a process of finding out what everyone needs and coming up with the best alternative to help them fulfill those needs.

Regardless of which view you take, negotiations involve preparation, working closely with other people, agreeing to a specific course of action, and understanding what your own strengths and learning needs are.

Negotiations are done through two models: (1) negotiating from a specific position and (2) negotiating common interests and needs. Both models are effective and have been used extensively in various forms.

Too often negotiations get muddled into uncertainty and frustration because the negotiators have not written out and understood clear goals, objectives and standards. Specific objectives help people achieve general goals such as improved working relationships between organizations. Standards are the minimum acceptable guidelines for specific actions or services and are quite different from objectives.

Ethics are an extremely important part of negotiations. Often people are tempted to avoid ethical issues in hopes that they will accomplish short-term gains for themselves or their organizations. Effective negotiators concentrate on the long-term and make sure that all parties to an agreement understand the ethical and legal consequences of their agreements.

Negotiation is an everyday thing and many of us enjoy the give and take of negotiating with family and friends and colleagues. Formal negotiations do not have to be any less enjoyable if you have built a reputation as a honest, fair and professional negotiator. Over time, that reputation will save you a great deal of time and effort and will allow people to work more openly and enjoyably with you during negotiations.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Block, P. (1990). The empowered manager: Positive political skills at work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, H. (1980). You can negotiate anything: How to get what you want. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Donaldson, M.C., & Donaldson, M. (1996). Negotiating for dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books.

Fisher, R., & Brown, S. (1988). Getting together: Building relationships as we negotiate. New York: Penguin.

Fisher, R., & Ury, W. (1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York: Penguin.

Illich, J., & Heady, R.K. (1996). The complete idiot’s guide to winning through negotiation. New York: MacMillan.

Karrass, C.L., (1993). Give and take: A complete guide to negotiating strategies and tactics. New York: Harper Health care facility/team.

McCormack, M.H. (1995). On negotiating. Marietta, GA: Dove.

Shell, G. R. (1999). Bargaining for advantage: Negotiation strategies for reasonable people. Minneapolis, MN: Viking Press.

Ury, W. (1993). Getting past no: Negotiating your way from confrontation to cooperation. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

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Copyright © 2000 Harry van Bommel

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