[Opinion] The Non-Negotiables

There are non-negotiable issues in a conflict.

But a lot of those issues are determined to be non-negotiable by the parties involved in the conflict.

If a party decides that their emotions are the only driver that matters, and that they aren’t going to put those emotions away, for the sake of getting to a deal, then that party’s emotions are non-negotiable.

If a party decides that other parties who aren’t at the table (i.e. outsiders, colleagues, an audience, etc.,) are the ones that are going to control how the negotiation goes, then those outside actors become non-negotiable elements.

If a party decides that their current mood (which can change, day-to-day, moment-to-moment) is the only mood that matters (because, well, it’s their mood) then that decision becomes non-negotiable.

We often think of everything as being negotiable, which is not the same sentiment as “Everyone has a price” or “Everyone can be bought.” Many things, issues, positions, and interests are indeed negotiable. But the problem is, each party decides what’s on the table—and what isn’t.

What makes this decision particularly sticky is that moods, emotions, relationships with other parties not at the table, and many other non-negotiable elements of a negotiation process, involve recognizing the impact of identity, story, and meaning.

And who really wants to negotiate their identity, story, or meaning with a party, whom they automatically have framed as untrustworthy before the negotiation even began?

The skills of persuasion, evasion, coercion, facilitation, and active listening, are often discounted in the rush to close a deal. But those skills become crucial ones for negotiators to value and practice.

Honing the craft of negotiation is more than about sitting in a room and role-playing a case study. Honing the craft of negotiation is about developing intuition, patience, rapport, and caring along with those other skills, in order to get the best possible outcome.

Which usually just means, “The outcome that works best for me, right now.”

[Advice] The Container is not the Water

Anger is a secondary emotion, or so we have heard.

It exists below the primary emotions of either fear, frustration, grief, disgust, shame, anxiety and more.

When those underlying emotions are not addressed, they become a problem for other people, and for ourselves.

In the conflict process, where disputes between people are a part of the mix, sometimes anger manifests and parties use that anger as a weapon against each other.

Anger is only used one of two ways: either as a way to manipulate the other party, (in the form of passive aggressive anger) or to overwhelm and emotionally flood the other party (in the form of attacking anger).

The way to defuse all of this in the conflict process is to focus on two basic, immediate tactics:

  • People have emotions and emotions may influence and direct interests, and serve to harden positions in a conflict process, but people are not their emotions. The container is not the water.
  • The process of conflict engagement means moving into the anger and through it with the other party. This may mean walling off your own emotions—for a while—but keeping the other party focused on the higher goals of the process, rather than the presence of unresolved anger, can serve to move them away from manipulation and attack.

The long term strategy is to get the other party to agreement. The tactic is to look at people and the process, independently from the situation immediately in front of your face.

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-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: hsconsultingandtraining@gmail.com
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Stop Fooling Around

“Let’s get serious.”

So…what…we’ve just been fooling around the whole time?


Those three words, codified through social niceties and small talk, are often said before official, issue driven, conversations and negotiations begin.

Typically, they are used as a way to separate people from each other and to categorize those who seem issue focused and decision driven—from those who seem distracted and lazy.

But, this is a false equivalency: equating being “serious” with being focused, driven—and by extension—successful in life in all the ways that the folks in the other silo are not.

And all this siloing through language only serves to inflate individual egos, and to deflate the potential for a positive situation to develop between parties who may be viewing the same issues through different frames.

We’ve got a better idea: just get started with the large talking and move right past the short hand, small talk, to the issues that matter.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/