Partial agreements are designed to allow us the opportunity to at least resolve some of the outstanding issues even if we cannot achieve a complete resolution of all of the issues. Unfortunately, many of us take an “all or nothing” approach to dispute resolution. However, dispute resolution can be achieved partially. We should therefore try to resolve as many issues as possible, whether small, medium, or large.
Conditional agreements allow us to continue our efforts to resolve our disputes without having to unilaterally “bid against ourselves.”
This is because conditional agreements are mutual by design. In other words, we would offer something on the condition of getting something in return.
Proposing a conditional agreement is attractive because it is based on familiar notions of fairness and reciprocity. For example, if we are $100,000 apart in our positions, we could offer to move $25,000 closer if (and only if) the person we are communicating with also moves $25,000 closer. If our condition is accepted, even though we would not resolve all disputes in their entirety, we would at least come $50,000 closer. If our condition is not accepted, then we would be back to being $100,000 apart as before. By attempting a conditional agreement, not only do we not lose our negotiation position, but we also communicate attractively. We send a message that we would be willing to respond to mutual effort, cooperation, and collaboration.
There are times when, at the moment, you may not be able to reach partial or conditional agreements. However, you may be able to at least agree to a form of cease-fire. A status quo agreement, like a cease-fire, preserves the status quo. It could take the form of an agreement not to sue each other in court for a specified period of time and/or an agreement not to escalate the current level of discord for a specified period of time. Status quo agreements allow us some time, space, and breathing room.
If you are unable to resolve certain issues at the moment, do not sabotage issues that you can resolve. Try to resolve as many as possible, even if they are small or merely procedural issues. Being able to resolve issues, however small, sets a positive tone for future discussions.
If you are concerned that the person you are communicating with is not being cooperative and you are concerned about bidding against yourself, try making conditional offers. You can say, for example: “Because I am committed to good-faith negotiation, reciprocity, and mutual cooperation, I am willing to move $25,000 closer to your number if you come $25,000 closer to my number. We can then revisit the matter at a later time in the hopes of reaching a complete global settlement.”
If you cannot achieve peace, you may be able to at least get a cease-fire. Ask to preserve the status quo. In personal relationships, for example, you might say:
“So that we can all calm down and think things through, I propose that we both agree that we won’t be making any negative comments to each other or to others until we meet again in a week.”
In business, you might say: “I propose that we meet in thirty days and that we do not sue each other during that time so we can continue to work with each other amicably.”