Beyond Intractability
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Negotiation Stage
Eric Brahm

October 2003

There comes a point, often after a stalemate is reached, where the parties decide to try negotiation to attempt to resolve the conflict. The process of initiating negotiation can be difficult as it may be interpreted as a sign of weakness. This is one reason why it is often useful for third parties to become involved. [1]

The timing of this step is crucial.[2] Resolution can only be achieved if the parties are willing to negotiation. In order for the conditions to be ripe, there must be both a perception on all sides that the present course is unsustainable, and a perception that there is a suitable "way out"[3] of the conflict. In some instances, participants realize their course of action cannot succeed and they initiate discussion. At other times, outside interveners may bring the parties to the negotiating table. The timing is critical however, because if negotiation is started too early, before both parties are ready, it is likely to fail. And repeated failed negotiation efforts reinforce the notion that the conflict is intractable and can make resolution more difficult by discouraging further efforts.[4]

Negotiation may lead to a settlement, but may also simply lead to a pause in the conflict. If the latter, there is a relatively good chance the conflict may cycle back to escalation at a later time.

Negotiations generally go through a series of stages: each group decides on its position; determines its alternatives (see BATNA), spokesperson(s), and its agenda. Once together with the other party, they share their positions, consider options, exchange concessions, perhaps reach an accord, and implement it.[5]

A number of theories have emerged to understand negotiating tactics, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to respond to them.[6] Generally speaking, negotiations are complex, drawn-out processes and a broad range of factors make each somewhat unique. Their shape depends upon the procedures that have become institutionalized, the number of parties and number of representatives present, the scope of issues under discussion, the degree to which it is part of a broader framework of negotiations, and the extent to which they are taking place in the public eye.[7]

[1] Jeffrey Rubin, Dean Pruitt, and Sung Hee Kim, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, 2nd edition. (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), 196-223.

[2] I. William Zartman, "Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond," in International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War eds., Paul Stern and Daniel Druckman. (Washington: National Academy Press, 2000).

[3] William Zartman's term. See his essay on Ripeness in this Knowledge Base.

[4] Louis Kriesberg, "Nature, Dynamics, and Phases of Intractability," Draft.

[5] P.H. Gulliver, Disputes and Negotiations: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (New York: Academic, 1979); Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Settlement. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 291-5.

[6] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Settlement. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 278-87.

[7] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Settlement. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 287-291.

Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Negotiation Stage." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <>.

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