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To Resolve A Dispute, Ask Your Adversary For Advice

by Phyllis Pollack

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

 In the June 2007 issue of Negotiation, Katie A. Liljenquist and Adam D. Galinsky discuss how to “Turn Your Adversary Into Your Advocate.” Their advice is simple: Ask for advice. A request for advice will always be much more effective than an adversial approach.

 The authors note that there are multiple benefits to seeking advice. First, “soliciting advice helps you find solutions to genuine problems.” (Id. at 2). It also can “disarm potentially defensive opponents.” As the authors aptly point out, “when you ask someone for advice rather than issuing demands or attacks, you frame your negotiation as a joint problem-solving task, and establish a norm of collaboration.” (Id.)

 The second benefit is flattery: “Asking a fellow negotiator for advice is an implicit endorsement of her opinions, values and expertise.” (Id.) It also shows respect.

 The third benefit is that it causes the other person (aka your adversary) to look at the situation from your perspective. Upon doing so, the other party will better understand your “underlying interests, find creative solutions and avoid harsh attributions for [your] behavior.”

 A fourth benefit is commitment: “Delivering advice requires a small amount of time but it engenders a sense of commitment that can be invaluable. . . . [A] negotiator who is asked for and gives advice is much more likely to follow through on any agreement she helps to create.” (Id. at 3). In giving advice upon request, the other person takes on a degree of responsibility for the outcome and thus feels a sense of commitment.

 In concluding their article, the authors provide three guidelines on how to ask for advice: (1) express your overall competence first; (2) make your request specific; and (3) emphasize the exclusivity of your request. (Id. at 3).
 As the authors explain, many people do not like to ask for advice for fear of appearing weak. To overcome this, start your request by affirming your general competence and then seek the advice on a discrete topic. In doing so, be very specific. A generalized request for advice will often be met with a vague and unhelpful response. But, asking for help on a detailed point will provoke the response you seek. Finally, make a point of telling the other person why you are asking them and not someone else: why they are uniquely qualified to help you. (Id.)

 Consequently, the next time you are in a dispute with someone, ask them for their advice on how to resolve it. By doing so, the other person will work with you, rather than against you, and in all probability, the dispute will be resolved.
 . . . Just something to think about. 


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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