An Apology at the Bargaining Table

Conflict and Negotiation Case Study: The Importance of Sincerity
One of the hardest things about being an effective negotiator is the ability to leave your ego at the door.  We need to listen, not impress.

Seasoned Negotiators, Effective Apologies

As negotiation trainer Jim Camp warns, an effective negotiator learns how to let the other side be “ok,” even when you’re not.  The fact is that no matter how well we listen, no matter how well we employ our negotiator’s tool kit to learn the real interests of the other side, we’re going to make mistakes.

And yes, on occasion, we’re going to say stupid things.  Things that offend.  Things that make the other side be “not ok” and that hurt our ability to reach our goals. What then? We apologize.  And as seasoned and effective negotiators, we know how to deliver an apology effectively.

Step One – Find the Source

You should not assume that you understand the nature of your offense.

Often we think we know full well what we did wrong, and sometimes we are right.  But often, we are wrong and we need to use our basic negotiator’s tool to uncover the precise nature of our wrong. You don’t want to apologize for the wrong thing. It’s a good idea to redirect your interrogative techniques toward finding out exactly what it was that caused the offense.

Usually a combination of empathetic statements and opened end questions will suffice.  But beware the false “no.”

Not, “Did I offend you?”  That’s too easy to give a false no.

Try. “You’re offended.  How did that happen?”  Then wait for the answer and listen when it comes.

What you’re looking for here is dynamic agreement. You keep feeding back a combination of empathetic statements and mirroring until the responses until you get the enthusiastic response that tells you that you have uncovered the response.

Step Two – Don’t Avoid the Emotions

Sometimes people need to vent.  A good apology comes after your counterpart has expressed their anger fully, not instead.

Frequently we want to apologize quickly to avoid having to hear about our own bad behavior. The adept negotiator that has offended his counterpart is prepared to listen, and to accept the criticism, however harsh, without wincing or explaining.  The underlying emotions and anger should find expression, and our ego should not interfere.

Step Three – No Un-Apologies

We can only apologize for ourselves.  Not for the unforseen, not for the actions of others, and certainly not for the circumstances that we want to insist excuses the slight.

“I regret that I did not honor my commitment.  I apologize. That was not fair.”

All of the experts say that an apology must be delivered directly and with full responsibility. And it it isn’t just about apologizing because you need to reach your own goals.  It should be sincere and, if it’s not, your counterpart is likely to know.  A recent study covered by the Harvard Program on Negotiations makes the following point:

See Conflict and Negotiation Case Study: The Importance of Sincerity Apologies at the Bargaining Table

Apologies at the Bargaining Table

Most of us have had the experience of delivering an apology that fell on deaf ears. When apologies fail to achieve their aims, poor delivery is usually to blame. The importance of sincerity in such a situation cannot be overstated, because if the recipient thinks your apology is less than sincere, she is unlikely to forgive you. Such is the power of sincerity in both negotiation and dispute resolution, as this case study involving a bakery in the Philippines and its labor union demonstrates:

Negotiation Case Study: The Philippines’ Golden Donut, Inc. The Philippines-based Golden Donut chain faced difficult negotiations with its labor union. When the management’s negotiating team showed up 35 minutes late to the talks, the union’s team stormed out in protest. In an attempt to resume the process, the management team sent the union negotiators a letter that included an apology. Perceiving the apology to be insufficient, the union refused to reconvene and ultimately went on strike. When it comes time to make an apology, how can you convey your sincerity? By delivering the apology in person, expressing it with emotion, and conveying a sense of personal responsibility and remorse. In one study, Edward Tomlinson of John Carroll University and Roy […]

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