Should You Bargain With the Devil?

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Sometimes employers are so offended by a grievance or an EEOC complaint that they believe if they were to sit down and negotiate with the employee, they’d be selling their souls. Sometimes employees feel like entering into a negotiation with an employer who believes they have done nothing wrong would not only be futile but would increase their pain. And then there is that co-worker that has it in for you, why in the world would you sit down at a negotiating table with someone like that?

Principles drive many of us. When we’re sure we’re right about something, the very word “negotiation” seems like a dirty word. We might feel like the other side is only out to get us. If you’re an employer, you might think that the employee is just a gold digger, and is looking only to see how much money they can get. If you’re an employee you might feel that your employer is abusive and needs to be exposed in a public forum.

But what if you’re wrong? What if the employee has a genuine grievance that you’ve just failed to see? What if your boss finally understood what you were trying to say? What if there is a solution out there that neither of you had thought of previously?  In mediation, we call this “suspending judgment”.  It doesn’t mean that the judgment isn’t there, it means putting it aside for now and seeing if you attribute positive intent to the other side whether that might make a difference in the outcome.

Deciding that the other side is evil is sometimes our minds way of giving up. It might seem that there is no other explanation for the fact that our own unassisted efforts at negotiation have failed. But if two heads are better than one, three might be better yet. By involving a third party neutral, there is a chance not only for new creative solutions to arise, but a chance that a new third way of looking at the communication dynamics could come about.

If you are facing what seems like an intractable conflict in the workplace, give me a call. You might be surprised to find that its possible to replace those horns and tail with a workable solution and a better working relationship.

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