Fixing Broken Relationships In NegotiationVery often we have to negotiate in circumstances where a relationship has previously broken down, or breaks down during the negotiation process. This is not an easy scenario. Discussions against this backdrop may be marked by recriminations, mistrust, suspicion, mistaken presumptions about the attitude and motives of the other side, and a whole host of bad behaviours including sarcasm, contempt and aggression. This presents us with the question, how do you begin to repair a broken relationship?

Here are some options:

  1. Recognise the problem:
    Firstly, acknowledge the problem at hand rather than ignoring it. “We don’t seem to be getting on very well. What can we do to change that?”
  2. Listen and offer an understanding:
    Secondly, if you want to restore trust you then have to really listen to the other side. Active listening involves summarising and playing back to the other side feelings as well as information – “I can see you are very upset by that”…. One of best pieces of advice ever given to me as a negotiator was to “use your mouth and your ears in the proportions God gave you”. That means twice as much time should be spent listening in a negotiation as talking. This is particularly important when trust has gone astray. Listening also means acknowledging the validity of the other side’s feelings, “well, I can see why you are upset, looking at it from your point of view, even though I view it differently.”
  3. Make positive changes:
    Other tips include breaking the patterns of behaviour which have created the bad relationship. Change the venue where you usually meet. Change the make-up of the teams so as to introduce new players not affected by the same emotional baggage. If you never socialise with the person you don’t get on with it, give that a go. Spending time with someone in a different context can help turn your view of each other from “demon” to “human”. In addition, try and take small steps on the way to redemption rather than solving everything at once. Small agreements on process or easy points help to create momentum in the right direction. Finally, focus on what you have in common rather than the issues that divide you. It’s too easy to look solely at the things you disagree on when you don’t like somebody

Once you start down this route bear in mind that restoring trust takes time, during which you must consistently display this approach and use these tips. The relationship won’t heal in 5 minutes, it’s a process.