Facilitation Techniques in Negotiations

27 January 2023

In organizational work involving multiple parties, including conflict resolution, facilitation, discussion and negotiation work is commonplace, including at CRU. In order to run in an orderly, smooth and purposeful manner, a discussion and negotiation is usually guided by a facilitator. The facilitator will help oversee the discussion so that it remains focused by maintaining smooth communication and ensuring that the participants respect each other’s ideas and are orderly in their dialogue. In organizing, we often use the services of a facilitator or even we ourselves are assigned as a facilitator in organizational discussions. 

In carrying out his role, a facilitator often uses various facilitation techniques, such as active listening, asking open-ended questions, asking for clarifications, brainstorming, group and plenary discussions, role playing and simulation, mind mapping, problem solving, agreeing on the rules of the game, ice-breakers and energizers, and so on.

The use of facilitation techniques choice above also needs to be adjusted to the purpose of the discussion itself. For example, if the purpose of the discussion is to carry out organizational strategic planning, it may be necessary for a facilitator to use ice-breakers and energizer technique to smooth the tension between discussion sessions. Meanwhile, if the discussion is carried out in the context of negotiating conflict resolution, usually the agreeing on the rules of the negotiation becomes a separate agenda discussed by the parties facilitated by a mediator.

Regarding to conflict resolution, it can be said that the mediation process is a series of discussions directed at efforts to resolve conflicts and a mediator’s role is to facilitate discussions between the parties to find a way out of the conflict they are facing. Because of that we can say that a mediator should master the skills of facilitating negotiations.

However, is facilitating negotiations in mediation the same as facilitating discussions in general? Both facilitators and mediators are third parties outside of the interested parties who play a role in designing, guiding, and maintaining the smooth running of a discussion. Then, what is the difference?

There are two important differences between facilitating discussions in general and facilitating negotiations; the first is that in negotiations the topic of discussion is conflict and not an objective problem distant from the participants. And secondly, in negotiations the participants are parties in conflict and the relationship between them is painted by real interests which often conflict with each other. So, even though the facilitator and mediator are equally responsible for building and maintaining the discussion process so that it runs in an orderly manner, in the context of negotiations several things become more important to note, including the relationship between the parties and their goals in solving problems that are in the real interests of each. each party. Which means that in the role of the mediator, aspects of controlling emotions and maintaining relations between parties, maintaining the impartiality of the mediator, and efforts to develop an objective and distanced attitude are more of a consideration than in the role of the facilitator in discussions other than conflict resolution negotiations.

In the context of conflict management, the ability of the mediator to facilitate negotiations between the parties will determine the quality of the resulting agreement. Where a mediator is responsible for building a conducive process for the parties to be able to have a dialogue from the start of the mediation process. In short, if the mediator is unable to build a conducive discussion process, then the resulting agreement may not be the right solution for resolving the conflict. This is another aspect that differentiates negotiations from discussion processes in general. Often in the process of handling conflicts, building an atmosphere where the parties can respect each other’s existence and ideas is a task in itself before negotiations begin. Things like this, do not always have to be faced by a facilitator.

Therefore, it is very important for a mediator to master the ability and skills to facilitate negotiations that are sensitive to the conflict resolution efforts that are being developed.

For example, in general discussions the seating arrangements of the participants may only consider efficiency incommunication, but in negotiations for conflict resolution seating arrangements reflecting an equal position between the parties become very important. This may seem like a small issue, however, if the sitting position of the parties is not arranged in such a way by the mediator, it could become a stage for one party to demonstrate its strength in order to intimidate the other party. This, of course, can add to the problem.

In summary, commonly known discussion facilitation techniques can be used in negotiations but need to be adapted to the broader context, objectives and stages of negotiations. Also, while good facilitation abilities and skills are absolutely necessary for mediators, a good facilitator will not necessarily be a good mediator.

Hopefully this explanation can provide an overview of how to differentiate the facilitation of negotiations in mediation and the facilitation of discussions in general.

Photo credit by Johanes Minawan Laksana – Aerial view of Plaga Village in Bali island.