Negotiation
LEARN ABOUT THE ART OF INNER AND OUTER NEGOTIATION
-- Updated October 7, 2010 --

Welcome to Dr. Sterling's Negotiation Web Page!

    The mission of this page is to provide you with information and resources for understanding the process of negotiation and how it relates to mental wellness.

Openness to Negotiation is a Mental Wellness Factor.

    The process of negotiation consists of much more than what is indicated by the traditional definition of the word "negotiate."

    To negotiate generally means "to confer with another or others in order to come to terms or reach an agreement." At the interpersonal level, the ability to negotiate refers to a process we use to arrive at an agreement with someone about something that we originally did not agree upon -- in other words, to arrive at a new, mutually-acceptable conclusion. Negotiations can be about almost anything -- prices, payments, schedules, privileges, beliefs, complaints, behaviors, promises, feelings, and facts.

    Quite often, the term negotiation gets confused with the word persuasion. It once primarily stood for "skillful verbal coercion." Now, it stands much more for "discussion and exchange of ideas" -- a process for arriving at a consensus about truth or reality. This is not much different than the negotiation that occurs between a buyer and a seller. In interpersonal transactions and with the discovery of truth, there is always a buying and selling process taking place.

    We know what it means to say "I don't buy that at all." And, there are those of us who just never want to negotiate about anything -- "It's my way or the highway." And, there are those of us who are willing to negotiate too much and don't stand up for our beliefs or our perceptions at all -- complete wimps. Thus, you can rate yourself on a scale of "openness to negotiation" from zero to ten, ten being the extreme of completely open to negotiation and zero being the extreme of not at all open to negotiation. I call people at these two extremes "inflexible" and "overly-flexible." Neither extreme is very healthy -- that is, neither extreme, over time, leads to a balanced life with low levels of stress.

    Too little negotiation leads to an intolerant lifestyle that generally leaves the "non-negotiator" with higher stress levels and more vulnerable to experiences of loneliness, distrust, and making big mistakes on the basis of being out of touch with important facts. Too much negotiation leads to an overly-flexible lifestyle that depends too much on other people's opinions and perceptions, and quite often leads to chronic resentment, hostility, and low self-appreciation.

    Interpersonal negotiation implies being able to accept data from another source and figure out how to integrate it with data from within ourselves. It is a sharing of "power" and an acceptance of our own limitations -- an acceptance of the fact that we can't possibly know everything and can't possibly know the complete truth about any particular thing or event.

    Whether we know it or not, we are negotiating within ourselves every minute of every day of our lives. Negotiating is the process our brain uses to arrive at conclusions about raw data being fed into it -- sight, sound, feel, smell, taste, and beliefs. It is common knowledge that our beliefs can override raw data and make us arrive at a conclusion about an event that is completely inaccurate.

    Being open to negotiation often gets labeled as a weakness. This is not the case. Frequent contentious and adversarial interactions lead to high blood pressure and heart ailments and contribute to fright-or-flight hormonal and biochemical responses that damage brain cells.

    Carl Rogers, a well-known psychologist who worked with groups of longstanding enemies such as Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, Ireland, and blacks and whites in South Africa, developed a philosophy in which dialogue is valued over debate. Rogers proposes that the goal of negotiation is to understand and accept differing perspectives rather than to attempt to perpetuate a single perspective. His redefinition of negotiation is based on the concept that there are "multiple realities" -- what is reality for you is not necessarily reality for me. There are, in effect, as many realities as there are people. In other words, perception is everything.

    Is the attitude of openness to negotiation a learned characteristic or skill? I think so. There may be a biological foundation to inflexibility, but it is not well understood at this time. Flexibility and power-sharing are attributes that are definitely learned as we grow up. Some parents feel that sharing power to decide matters with a child is abandoning their role. They often feel that their authority may be undermined and weakened by making "deals" with their children.

    It is my experience that negotiating with children teaches a process in which the parties involved in a particular decision can come away with a better appreciation for each other and will have developed a better ability to take into account each other's perceptions and realities.

    By using a decision-making process that involves a certain amount of mutual compromise, both children and adults can experience "win-win" scenarios. This process assists a child to learn to take into consideration other people's feelings, beliefs, and perspectives and not just make assumptions. Parents who model such a process of taking into consideration the perspectives of others, allow their children to learn the same skills and to learn how important it is to be curious, and to seek facts and opinions. Such negotiation processes influence children to develop styles and habits that lead to constant intellectual and personal growth as they age. I don't think there is any doubt that people function more humanely together when they take time to understand the other person's point of view.

    This is the essence of negotiation -- to be careful about our assumptions and to be open to new data and information.

Links to Information and Resources about Negotiation.

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RON STERLING, M.D.
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