Negotiating in the Workplace – Part I

Call them differences, issues, conflicts, or concerns. Whatever the name, these come up almost every day in the workplace. And, its not necessarily a negative. We often want and need diverse ideas, differing opinions, or even direct disagreements to help fuel creativity and drive an organization forward.  This is certainly true at NC State where robust critical thinking is needed to move the academic mission of the university.

I’ve written in the past about one approach to addressing workplace issues – the idea of separating differences on an idea from differences with a person –  to be “hard” on problems and “soft” on people – to be “nice.” Negotiating is part and parcel of this idea and also stands alone as a tool for addressing workplace issues.

So, how are your negotiating skills?  Most people are not “trained” as negotiators, and thus, part of my role as the NC State Faculty Ombuds’ is to serve as “negotiation coach.”  This means that I help faculty members think strategically about the issues they bring to the office and help them plan any negotiation that might be part of the situation.  Typically, I work with people to find “all win” solutions as my experience suggests that for you to get what you want, then others involved also need to get what they want!

I think most conflicts that arise in the workplace can also be placed in the context of a negotiation and, with this in mind, I came across a recent press release from mediator and authorJeffrey Krivis sharing “Ten Tips for Negotiating Workplace Conflicts.”  Krivis is a well thought of mediator in the Bay area and author of Improvisational Negotiation.  Krivis thinks of negotiating as art and science mixed together and suggests that the key ideas are to think about human behavior, pay close attention, and frame the negotiation as an effort to solve the problem.

Here are the Krivis Tips along with some comments and add-ons from my own experience:

  1. ” Let people tell their story” – people want to be heard and after feeling heard, a person can significantly change their perspective. Further, when you listen you can also learn new information. From my own experience, one other benefit is that when you listen, you model the behavior you want from others – they will be more likely to listen to you. If they listen, you might get what you want.
  2. “If someone refuses to budge, take the spotlight off her. Isolation tends to create movement.” – if you are in a situation involving multiple people and if one person declines to engage in negotiation, then work with those that will.  As you make progress, this essentially isolates the one not participating to the point where they may begin to feel left out – isolated. This effectively neutralizes the “perceived power” and creates the opportunity to complete the negotiation with all participants involved.
  3. “When someone seems ‘locked up,’ dig for the emotion behind the stone face.” – Krivis describes a negotiation where one principle gave “robotic answers” and little progress was being made. So, Krivis sought to explore what was behind the outward “robot” and learned significant information that helped resolve the matter. Krivis asked, “What is it you really want to achieve here?”  This opened the door to connect the person with what mattered most and led to a resolution. My experience suggests that whatever emotions you encounter in a negotiation, you should pause to reflect, and seek to learn what’s behind the outward presentation.
  4. “When people are picking flyspecks out of paper, come in with a reality check.” – The idea here is to not be so focused on the “minutiae” that you miss the big picture. Consider setting aside the detail for a moment and think in terms of a larger frame. Does the detail carry the day? Or, is it really a minor aspect? It’s the forest for the trees idea or win the battle, but lose the war. Ask yourself – what’s more important and take steps accordingly.
  5. “Identify the true impediment” – Krivis explains that there is generally a “true motivating factor” that either encourages or prevents a person from resolving a situation and that you should seek it out. In the situation Krivis describes, the main factor had to do with a health issue not directly related to the situation under negotiation; however, once it was surfaced and addressed, the matter was resolved. This matches my own experience in terms of connecting with people that are in your negotiation. Find out who they are and what is important to them as you share what is important to you.

Look for Part II in the next few weeks and we’ll complete the Krivis Top Ten!




Microaggressions – can we shift the landscape to microaffirmations?

This spring I’ve attended several programs on “Microagressions” in academia and wanted to share a couple aspects for your consideration. I suggest this topic is important as we seek to build a more collegial environment and based on the concerns that faculty members bring to the NC State Faculty Ombuds Office.

First, what is a microagression?

According to Derald Wing Sue (Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University) who has written and presented extensively on this subject, the term “microaggressions” are generally thought of as “small” verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward people.  The “small” only refers to the act itself, not its impact.  Dr. Sue points out in much of his work that recognizing microaggressions is an important first step in changing behavior.  Here’s a “Microaggression Tool” for your use (adapted from Sue, Dearly Wing, Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual orientation, Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Editor Note: To clarify, the “Microagression Tool” included in this post was provided as part of a workshop and was not developed by the Faculty Ombuds. That said, it is included in this post for its designed purpose, to allow exploration of comments and actions taken that can negatively impact people. This clarification is provided as this post received many comments, mostly negative, taking offense at some of the statements that Professor Sue believes demonstrate various microaggressions. The point of this post was to present the concept of microaggressions in the workplace and offer a tool for thinking about what we say and do in our workplace. The intention is to encourage people to think about how they interact with other people in the workplace and to think about being affirming of those that have differences.

Second, in addition to recognizing microagressions, one workshop presenter offered the OTFD tool for use when you are in a place where a microagression occurs. The idea is to bring attention to the behavior in a way that will be heard, understood, and potentially acted upon in a constructive manner. OTFD stands for the following:

O – Observe         T – Think           F – feel              D – Describe

Here’s how it works. Let’s place ourselves in a faculty meeting when we note a behavior that gives you concern.

1) – Observe the behavior and make it concrete – what are the facts?

2) – What do you think about it? Does it fit your thinking of a microaggression?

3) – How do you feel about it?

4) – Describe what you saw and felt and what you want to happen as a result. It’s not about casting blame, its about describing the behavior and asking for a change.

For example: If at a meeting you notice a person routinely interrupting some people, but not others, and if you perceive it as a microaggression – then consider saying: I’ve noticed some interruptions in our meetings that make me uncomfortable. Can we think about and discuss some communication guidelines to help us have a more productive meeting?

Third, and final thought. Can we think in terms of microaffirmations? Can you compliment and support colleagues that are interrupted?  Can you greet someone warmly as opposed to no greeting? Can you make it a point to sit with someone where others do not?  Go back and review Sue’s Recognizing Microagressions Tool and think – what can I do to affirm?

Apology Research – How to do it Well !


Have you ever offered an apology that fell flat?  That made someone madder?  Well, it turns out there are specific components to an effective apology.  These are the findings of a recently published article on an “apology” research project in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Vol. 9, No. 2 (May 2016). The result – there are six substantive elements to an apology with some more important than others.

Professor Emeritus Roy Lewicki (lead author) and Associate Professor Robert Lount of Management and Human Resources at The Ohio State University and Assistant Professor of Management Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University conducted two separate experiments of how people reacted to apologies made up of different elements. The study of 755 people found the following six elements of an effective apology:

1. Expression of regret
2. Explanation of what went wrong
3. Acknowledgement of responsibility
4. Declaration of repentance
5. Offer of repair
6. Request for forgiveness

According to Professor Lewicki – “Apologies really do work, but you should make sure you hit as many of the six key components as possible.” (The Ohio State University Newsroom)  The research also identified acknowledgment of responsibility as most important with offer of repair the next most significant.

Thus, the next time you apologize, try to include all six elements, but if you can’t fit them all in, make sure to acknowledge your responsibility and make an offer of repair.

Good luck with your next apology!

NC State Faculty Ombuds Office Announces New Initiative


The “Be Nice Campaign:  Be Hard on Problems and Soft on People”


On June 19, 2015, in a New York Times opinion, Christine Porath wrote “No Time to Be Nice at Work” opening with “MEAN Bosses could have killed my father.” I wrote about this article in the summer (see entry of 7/31/15) and while the article certainly made an impression on me, I was already a believer in terms of encouraging civility even when people disagreed. As a long time professional mediator, I’ve long encouraged people to separate the people from the problem based on concepts from one of the seminal books on negotiation/mediation “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury. I noted in my earlier post that perhaps this could develop into a “Be Nice” initiative. This fits well with part of what I consider my role as the NC State Faculty Ombuds – to promote healthy conflict resolution approaches.

Fast forward to last week. In addition to serving as the NC State Faculty Ombuds (on a part-time basis), I also maintain an active dispute resolution practice serving as mediator, arbitrator, teacher, and trainer. This past year I’ve had a chance to work with Marine Special Forces Team Commanders in a two day program focused on negotiation and mediation skills for working with people outside a military command structure. These programs generally include other military personnel to help with role plays and provide experience based concepts for the program students. During a session last week, one of the assistant trainers, an Army Special Forces Veteran with experience across the globe shared the following story about one of his team Sergeants to highlight the importance of being nice.

The story goes like this:

In the mid 1980’s the Sergeant was serving as a military advisor in El Salvador. This was in the middle of fighting between government forces and FMLN forces. One day the Sergeant was driving down a fairly remote dirt road when he saw a women up ahead walking along the side of the road and carrying a bundle of sticks for firewood. He slowed his vehicle down because that’s what you do on a dirt road when someone is walking so you don’t stir up the dust. He stopped when he got near the woman and asked if she wanted a ride. She did, got in the vehicle, and they headed up the road. He dropped her off with hardly a word spoken along the way and quickly forgot about the event.

About 4 months later, the Sergeant is sitting in a restaurant/bar in San Salvador. The spot is know as a “neutral” location where people and military could gather without fear of violence. As the Sergeant sat, a man approached and asked if he could join the table. The man said – “Do you know who I am?” The Sergeant did indeed know as this was one of the rebel commanders that was being sought. The FMLN commander sat down, looked to the Sergeant and said: “I just want to let you know that you will get out of this country alive . . . and, my mother says thanks for the ride.”

University campuses are designed to foster critical thinking and as part of such thinking comes disagreement. This is true for both students and faculty and comes in many forms. Unfortunately, both in and out of the classroom, there are times when disagreement between ideas becomes disagreement between people and differing opinions may cause differing and sometimes hostile treatment. This incivility as Christine Porath wrote can have both direct health consequences and impact the ability to be productive at work.

As I reflect on my short time as the NC State Faculty Ombuds (opened the office in February 2015) and the range of issues that have come my way to date, some of the situations call out for faculty to figure out how to disagree in a better way. How to be civil and polite while being assertive and even forceful on ideas – how to think and do conflict resolution in more productive ways.

Thus, with the connections noted above, I’m pleased to announce a new initiative from the NC State Faculty Ombuds Office –

The Be Nice Campaign: Be hard on problems and soft on people


This campaign will develop over time with a range of programming including written materials, training, and perhaps a public forum on the topic; however, the first step is to announce it and, in so doing, raise how faculty treat each other as an appropriate issue for consideration.

I look forward to working with you all to “Be Nice” and continue the critical thinking necessary to foster, develop, and share differing ideas and perspectives.