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Persuasion Without Coercion

This article was originally published in slightly different form on the website.

Escape the “dog eat dog” mentality in negotiation and mediation. There are concrete steps you can take to utilize fairness in persuasion.

Why fairness?
Many negotiations require distribution or “dividing the pie” at some point. If one of your goals is not coercing others or being coerced, then a significant time in preparation and negotiation needs to be focused on fairness. While many people would articulate a desire for fairness, we simultaneously also feel a need to get as much as possible lest we lose out entirely. We live in a dog eat dog world, where “win-win” often means, “We both win, but I win more than you win.” Increasing your ability to focus on and utilize fairness when you’re dealing with counterparts in a negotiation or mediation requires a thorough examination of fairness and how you can apply it.

What is fair?
First, step back and see it like an outside observer. This is often the hard work of research and investigation. Ask yourself: What are the objective criteria that might be helpful in deciding? What might a judge or arbitrator rule? What are past precedents? What are the industry standards or external benchmarks?

Work it together.
Unfortunately, we often run into difficulty when “objective” criteria are brought to the table. We think our numbers are the “right” ones and we end up defending our data and attacking the other side’s. The ability to walk through together, to ask the other side for criteria, to really understand it and even jointly gather data is crucial. Making it less of a battle and more of a joint learning and problem-solving process is key. Sometimes, you can even let them do most of the talking.

Explain to constituents.
Keeping in mind that each person has to explain the solution to someone else can help parties not feel “taken.” Each person walks away from the table having to “defend” or justify the agreement to their boss, spouse, colleague or friend. Actually thinking through each party’s explanation to a constituency (including your own) can help filter realistic agreements.

Be open to persuasion.
The best way to persuade someone on the basis of fairness is for you to “move” because what the other person is saying to you makes sense. This type of modeling then signals to the other party that you’re working with – not against – them. What if the other side still doesn’t follow your lead? Keep in mind that being open to persuasion doesn’t mean being open to bad agreements or unfair demands.

Assert and defend with objective criteria.
When the other party tries to use leverage or power or will to get you to agree, if you assert and defend with standards and precedents rather than respond in kind you can help preempt and prevent the “us vs. them” dynamic. You can keep the focus on the issue. Listen. The bottom line is that your ability to do all of the above depends on really listening to what the other person is saying – and not saying. Stressful situations also call for a little m ore flexibility so you can fully appreciate the value of what the other party is saying.


Grande Lum

Grande Lum is the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Prior to joining Menlo, he was Director of the Divided Community Project (DCP) at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Previously, Grande Lum was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed… MORE >

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