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

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter November 2000
FALL 2000

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


by Mary Ellen Shea, Senior Trainer, The Negotiation Skills Company

Much modern thought on interest-based negotiation is derived from earlier studies of the bargaining process between labor and management. Nonetheless, labor-management negotiations - or collective bargaining - is a unique negotiation process. There are elements of the collective bargaining process that parallel other negotiation situations. These include the triggering of the negotiation process by some conflict or competition, the existence of a relationship, the invocation of prescribed rules or conventions, a process of communication and persuasion, and ultimately a determinative outcome. Each of these elements takes on a different twist in the labor management negotiation.


Most negotiation situations are prompted by the eruption of conflict or competition for resources. This occurs in labor-management negotiations when a group of employees first organize a labor union or when an already organized union seeks to renegotiate a labor agreement.

The move to unionize typically occurs when a conflict erupts in a workplace It may be the result of an organizational change, a dispute over wages or benefits, or resistance to management styles. The collective bargaining process is more often triggered when an already established union seeks to change (usually improve) the terms and conditions of its contract with the employer. In this case, the union and the employer are in competition for the resources produced by their relationship.


All negotiation situations involve some type of relationship. In preparing for a negotiation, one must always assess the nature of the relationship and whether it is limited in scope or time. In labor-management negotiations, relationship is not simply a factor to consider in one's strategy, it is the reason for the negotiation. In order to produce any resources to share, labor and management must enter into a relationship in which each understands its role in producing those resources.

In some negotiation situations, one party is dependent on the other. In labor-management negotiations, the parties are interdependent. Although the degree of mutuality may vary, the necessity of each to the other insures that each one enters the negotiation process with leverage and power.


Most negotiation processes are not governed by laws or rules. Agreements or contracts produced as the result of negotiations are certainly subject to law or rule, but most negotiators, whether in sales, real estate or politics, are not required to conduct negotiations or to behave according to specified laws or rules in the conduct of their negotiations. Personal style and custom generally govern non-labor negotiations.

Labor-management negotiations, however, are subject to procedural rules that govern the behavior of those engaged in the negotiation of substantive rules (the terms and conditions of employment). Laws and rules which govern the negotiation process (such as the National Labor Relations Act in the USA) prescribe when the parties are obligated to negotiate, what constitutes fair play when dealing with each other, what subjects may or may not be negotiated, and provides enforcement mechanisms to insure the negotiation process adheres to the law.

In non-labor negotiations, misleading tactics, withholding of information, inflated proposals or bypassing a representative are simply part of doing business. In labor-management negotiations, however, the legal principle of good-faith bargaining provides the offended party legal recourse to require the other to clean up its negotiating tactics.


As in non-labor negotiations, communication styles and techniques vary widely in the collective bargaining process. The parties may have a strong relationship characterized by open and honest communication, or there may be a history of hostility and argumentative communications. As in non-labor situations, the parties may engage in very formal negotiations (attorney representatives, professional union advocates, written proposals and traditional meetings) or more casual discussions (local managers meeting with local union representatives to work out concerns).

In traditional labor-management negotiations, there are distinct communication tasks at different stages of the negotiations. At the outset, each party argues its case in an effort to justify proposals it makes. This is followed by discussions to clarify specifics and logistics of each one's proposals. In the middle sessions, the parties' communications are targeted at exploring areas of overlap or compromise. During this phase, the parties communicate more information about needs and priorities. In the closing sessions, trading, exchanging, conceding and compromise are integrated to produce an overall agreement.


All negotiation scenarios include an element of power and efforts to persuade. This is no different in labor negotiations except as they manifest in the extreme. At the extremes of their access to power, the employer's ultimate power is to withhold work (income), and the ultimate exercise of power by the employee is to withhold labor (the means of production). In rare situations, however, neither labor nor management possesses a better alternative to a negotiated agreement than one with each other. An individual employee may have a better alternative to an individual employer and vice versa. However, an entire group of employees does not usually have a better alternative to a negotiated agreement with its existing employing organization, and the reverse is also true.


Before negotiations reach the agreement stage, both union and management will have conducted ongoing information sharing with its constituency. Each party determines how to develop support for the final agreement. Without this advance work, an agreement will fail. It is not uncommon for a union or an employer to refuse to enter into an agreement it believes is not supported by the other party's constituency. For example, if the employer needs to improve productivity, it will not sign a productivity incentive plan it believes the union cannot or will not "sell:" to its members.

Because the continuing strength of the labor management relationship is critical, a win-lose outcome in collective bargaining is not a viable option. As in non-labor situations, where the ongoing relationship is critical to the durability of the agreement, a union-management contract that has a loser will result in turmoil and hostility, at best, and complete failure of the enterprise, at worst. Long before win-win negotiating became popularized, unions and managers have historically sought to craft agreements that meet (at least some of the critical) needs of both parties.


1. In the Spring of 2001 TNSC will be rolling out a new product for which we have received many requests: we will be offering a train-the-trainer program for short in-house corporate negotiation training sessions of up to two hours duration. Please let us know if you or your company wants to be kept abreast of this development.

2. Steve Cohen is now the negotiation/business advice columnist on a web magazine based in Bombay which is aimed at Indian women. If you are interested in taking a look at the site, the address is


"The details you ignore in a negotiation may come up and bite you when you are most vulnerable".

Happy negotiating,

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