Progress is not always easy to measure during a negotiation, mediation, or an attempted collaboration. Sure, it is easy to measure lack of progress as it is laden with clear negative emotions and also the lack of a resolution or jointly decided upon conclusion but positive progress is not as easily defined.
As I am currently involved in research on crisis and hostage negotiations, fortunately scholarship has addressed this issue within this particular context. Although law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation is a niche area of conflict resolution that unless you are working in it, it seemingly does not have direct relevance, it can still provide learning lessons.
Measuring progress is not only necessary for the parties involved in the direct negotiation to allow them to stop and see how far they have come, it is also often necessary as it is a validation tool to superiors (we all have bosses to answer to!) to continue negotiating.
The following list is adapted from a variety of sources^ based on crisis and hostage incidents while I added a brief explanation on how it can apply to your conflict resolution situation as well:
1. Shift From Violent, Threatening Language to Nonthreatening Language.
Disputes and conflicts are emotionally filled situations that frequently have people releasing those emotions via their language. As conflict resolution professionals, we know that this includes language that can include threats, profanity, as well as confrontational words. An effective mediation and conflict resolution specialist (even non-neutrals) seeks to guide the person towards a mindset of reappraising their situation that includes them using positive language and is collaboratively looking for new options to resolve the dispute or conflict.
2. Subject Discloses Personal Information.
This is where the importance of using active listening* to create rapport and trust comes into play. The three lead to the person opening up, sharing information, and providing insight behind the reasons of their actions. This is the classic conflict resolution term of identifying the interests behind the positions.
3. Lower Level of Voice, Slower Voice Pattern.
You will notice how this is connected to the first point. Actions (verbal and nonverbal) emotions, and language are interconnected and thus progress in one, leads to progress in another (the adverse is true too). As time passes, a conflict resolution professional not only helps diffuse the situation by allowing the person to speak and know they have been heard, but also by being aware of emotional contagion. This simply means our actions- good or bad- can be contagious. By speaking calmly and slowly, you are showing the other person and effective way to interact. A lowered voiced and calmer tone can be a sign of the person no longer acting from solely their emotions but rather restoring the balance towards rational thinking.
4. Lowering of Demands.
In many negotiations where people do not prepare properly, they come in with a perspective of winning by having the other person lose. The issue with that is the other person arrives to the negotiation with the same idea. Therefore, instead of winning you both lose. When a person lowers their demands, it is not necessarily a sign of giving in but rather collaborating and working towards a win-win, or a situation where both sides are agreeing. Considering this is a negotiation, a resolution is only possible through a collaboratively built agreement.
Rapport Developed Between Subject and Negotiator.
Rapport is often noted as being necessary for law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiators to develop with the subject in order for their to be a peaceful resolution. Rapport is described as there being mutual attention, positivity, and coordination between two people. In all conflict situations rapport helps move people from seemingly opposite viewpoints to one that has both working together towards the best possible solution that is better than than options of a non-negotiated resolution.
It is critical for the conflict resolution professional to use tools that contribute to rapport being built. This includes the ones taught by the FBI here while also realizing the impact of nonverbal communication has in conflicts and negotiations.
For example, even if you are negotiating with someone that cannot see you (as is the case in the majority of crisis and hostage situations) consider the impact your gestures have on your voice tone. Compare the difference of your tone if you are pointing your finger or using open-handed gestures. Also do not forget, empathy plays an important role in developing rapport as your intentions behind your actions can leak out no matter how much you think they do not. You can read about how the U.S. Army promotes empathy in negotiation settings here and also check out the short clip by RSA Animate on empathy here.
Progress might not be as easy to measure compared to the lack of progress in conflict resolution situations, however hopefully the above list will help in moments when you are needing to update a boss or simply needing to self-reflect on your work.
^ Check out a great collection of crisis and hostage negotiation books from the ACR Crisis Negotiation Section here.
* Read about active listening techniques of crisis and hostage negotiators here.