Business Negotiation August 18, 2014

To Bury or Surface Divisive Matters?

Matters frequently arise at work that cause personal discomfort to persons involved.   Yet, despite discomfort, many prefer to submerge differences rather than resolve them through open negotiation and compromise...

Matters frequently arise at work that cause personal discomfort to persons involved.  Yet, despite discomfort, many prefer to submerge differences rather than resolve them through open negotiation and compromise. Whether one should bury such issues or allow them to surface requires good judgment because the resolution of even smaller differences is rarely achieved without conflict and risk to one or both parties. Unintended consequences are hard to predict.

Burying the matter for another day is a choice.  Some difficult issues to disappear over time even when nothing is done. Yet, an emotional price is paid when we avoid confronting a painful issue.  Such matters generally fester and grow harder to cope with when submerged.  When we avoid negotiation now, underlying tensions may explode in fury later.

With all the dangers inherent in submerging or burying internal differences, why do people do so?  As managers we should understand their reasons.  Some choose to tolerate disturbing annoyances in the hope that the issue will resolve itself. Though rare, these serendipitous events do occasional happen.

Some continue to tolerate the strange behavior of others because they are simply too busy with more important matters.  Others do so because the offending person has been on the job longer than they or has tenure or political clout.

Many in the workplace live with distressing situations because they doubt that relief is possible.  The situation is often partially attributable to external systemic factors such as chronic computer breakdowns, inadequate systems and procedures or systemic organizational problems.  When this is the case it seems a waste of time to negotiate in hopes of a resolution.  With patience and collaboration a better way can be found even when structural boundaries or impediments exist.

There are good reasons for choosing to submerge or postpone difficult issues for another time but the price is high.  Those of us who have done so know how hard it is to remain quiet for long periods while our anger boils.  It’s no surprise that one day we explode and express in a moment what has been on our minds for years.

There is a prudent option available.  My advice is to open such issues to negotiation between the parties in the most tactful way possible.  Work together for a both-win solution to overcome the difficulty separating you. Be sensitive to the psychological dangers and unintended consequences attendant to opening difficult matters.  Good judgment and preparation are essential. Choosing the right time and place to talk is critical.

The decision to negotiate differences rather than submerge them is difficult.  The tendency most people seem to have toward submerging interpersonal differences should be tempered in favor of taking somewhat greater risks.

I believe that differences and problems exposed to quiet, polite, reasoned and open discussion lead to better results and relationships in the long run.  They allow the process of cooperative, collaborative negotiation to lead us to lasting agreements that are more creative and satisfying.  Despite its initial difficulties, open discussion ultimately moves us toward more stable relationships with which to weather future storms.
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