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Negotiation as Interactive Problem Solving

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The use of the term interactive problem solving as a metaphor for negotiation implies that conflicting parties have a shared problem - essentially a problem in their relationship- which needs to be solved by addressing the underlying causes and the dynamics of the conflict in an interactive process. The term has been used to describe an unofficial third-party approach to conflict resolution, which typically brings together politically influential representatives of two parties in conflict for direct communication in problem-solving workshops. The present article draws on the experiences from this micro-process to develop a framework for the macro-process of negotiation. Within this framework, it describes the ultimate goal of negotiation as transformation of the relationship between the parties, which requires an agreement that addresses the fundamental needs and fears of both parties on a basis of reciprocity. It then discusses four components of negotiation - identification and analysis of the problem, joint shaping of ideas for solution, influencing the other side, and creating a supportive political environment - and procedures that the metaphor of interactive problem solving suggests for each. Finally, it identifies vehicles for integrating the perspective of interactive problem solving into the larger negotiation process.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Harvard University, William James Hall 1430, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA


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