By: Michael Kaiser
It is an accepted truism that conflict is part and parcel of human nature, and just as is the case with military and diplomatic conflicts, the business community is not free of conflicts both internal and external, some resolved and some not.
Of course the impact that business executives or employees experience when they fail to resolve a conflict with a partner or clients does not compare with the most feared and violent form of conflict: war.
Conflict resolution in the business sphere is complex for the same reason that a diplomatic one is, namely: negotiating an agreement that is acceptable to the disputing parties requires a give and take disposition from both sides.
In the early 1980s Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project released their book “Getting To Yes. Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. In it, the authors explain that the reason we negotiate is to get better results than the ones we would get without negotiation; they coined the acronym BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) as a standard that should be the measure of negotiations. Some of the key points of the BATNA are summarized as follows:
- Separate the people from the problem
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Establish precise goals at the outset of negotiations
- Work to create options that will satisfy both parties
- Negotiate successfully with opponents who are more powerful
The last point merits special attention because it is in line with our IT-intensive society and its impact on the conflict resolution process. For example, consider the perceived advantage of what is known as Information Asymmetry, the Condition:
“… in which at least some relevant information is known to some but not all parties involved. Information asymmetry causes markets to become inefficient, since all the market participants do not have access to the information they need for their decision making processes.” InvestorWords.com
That perceived advantage is a rather ephemeral one because:
“With increased advancements in technology, asymmetric information has been on the decline as a result of more and more people being able to easily access all types of information. Information Asymmetry can lead to two main problems:
1. Adverse selection- immoral behavior that takes advantage of asymmetric information before a transaction. For example, a person who is not in optimal health may be more inclined to purchase life insurance than someone who feels fine.
2. Moral Hazard- immoral behavior that takes advantage of asymmetric information after a transaction. For example, if someone has fire insurance they may be more likely to commit arson to reap the benefits of the insurance.” Investopedia
It can be argued that the easy access of information via the internet, the use of cell phones, e-mail, teleconferencing, etc. has adversely affected the conflict resolution process inasmuch as the more personal face-to-face negotiations of the 1980s have been replaced by a plethora of IT applications.
The BATNA approach is not completely obsolete and can still be of use in some cases where an opposing negotiator makes a final offer to resolve an existing conflict with an unexpected demand based on relevant information (i.e., information asymmetry) only available to him/her. But, surprise, now the other party that may have been perceived as weaker is no longer forced to capitulate on the spot; instead he/she would pick their iPhone, android or iPad, connect with their legal or financial advisors, and regain transaction equality by means of information technology.
A final advisory: current data mining and acquisition technologies significantly abbreviate and/or accelerate the “Go/No Go” factor in a negotiation process, be that in politics, real estate or the life sciences, but can never replace the instinct and creativity of the human mind.