Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter September 2007

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 38, September 2007

The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


Many people take the simple view that conflict is bad. Since conflict can be described as a situation where different people have ideas about which they do not agree, and since most people are so focused on being perceived of as being 'nice guys', conflict is often viewed as threatening. Many corporate leaders view internal conflict as something that can harm their public image if it ever gets into the press.

A more sophisticated look at conflict can yield the understanding that without contrary viewpoints, no progress can be made. While some of his followers devised controversial political and economic systems, analysts of the value of conflict can view Karl Marx's concept of 'dialectical materialism' in which an initial idea - the thesis, followed by a conflicting idea - the antithesis, can yield a better solution - the synthesis - as a good entrepreneurial model. Some corporate leaders go out of their way to maintain a 'happy corporate family'; others find success by encouraging competition - conflict - among different divisions to elicit superior ideas for corporate success.

There are four strategies leaders tend to choose for handling conflict. The first reflects conflict phobia; the others can be considered varieties of conflict transformation:

  1. Conflict Avoidance - denying that conflict exists by stifling free expression, refusing to listen to indications that individuals or groups disagree, or ignoring people who don't see eye-to-eye with corporate leadership. This approach is likely to be used by folks with weak self-images. When they say 'my way or the highway' it could well indicate they have conflict phobia - fearing that if they express an opinion that differs from those of others, they will appear troublesome, weak, or inept.
Conflict Transformation is an alternative approach that takes skill, creativity, and a bit of daring - but is likely to bring significant rewards by drawing the best from contradictory ideas. Based on the understanding that business people reach contrary conclusions based on both reasoned analysis and a proper focus on their personal interests as well as those of their business unit, conflict transformation is a search for underlying complementary interests that can bring about synergistic solutions.
  1. Conflict Resolution - taking situations where disagreement is a problem and finding ways to bring people to agree with each other, cooperate, or build success by drawing the best from apparently contradictory ideas.
  2. Conflict Management - accepting the reality that, for example, salespeople will 'promise the world' while logistics specialists take a more cautious approach. Managing this sort of conflict can mean creating and implementing a business model that draws strength from different viewpoints or mindsets to bring about a superior result.
  3. Conflict Prevention - this can range from conflict-phobic hiring policies that exclude people who don't follow the 'company line' to conflict-transformng pre-emptive activities that create mechanisms for people who think differently to gain from working collaboratively with each other.
By asking questions, doing reality checks on assumptions, and remembering that negotiation is not a competitive sport, the use of conflict transformation can bring about solutions that yield meaningful returns on investment - and doesn't simply sweep conflict under the carpet.


Whether we're presenting programs in China or Pennsylvania, working with companies in Mexico or government agencies in Europe, our team continues to be impressed with the sophistication - and enjoy the senses of humor of the people in our courses.

At present we estimate that the gross annual revenue of TNSC's clients approaches one trillion dollars and that they employ more than three million people.

Steve Cohen continues teaching at Brandeis University's International Business School. His current class of MBA students is drawn from 18 different countries.

Final Word

"Learn from others' mistakes. We don't have time to make them all ourselves."
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Good luck and good negotiating,
Steven P. Cohen, President
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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