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Situational Awareness=A Key to Effective Negotiation

Effective Problem Solvers Have Situational Awareness

Effective negotiators are goal-oriented AND they must walk around the periphery to discern what else may be going on that may have an impact on this particular negotiation. These factors may include substance and emotions. This approach is often called Situational Awareness (SA).

What is Situational Awareness (SA)?

SA refers to the ability of an individual or a group to perceive, comprehend and understand the elements and dynamics of the environment. It involves being aware of events, circumstance in one’s surrounding, and the potential implications they may have in the present and future.

In various contexts, SA is crucial to decision-making, problem-solving and overall safety.

SA involves actively monitoring and processing information from various sources, such as visual cues, auditory signals and other sensory inputs…SA is an essential skill that enables individuals and teams to stay alert, understand their environment and make informed decisions in a wide range of situations.

Example: November Meeting-Biden and Xi: On the surface, this very important meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping appears to be about the relationship between the two nations, but both leaders and their staff realize that the negotiation also impacts:

  • The Israeli-Hamas war

  • The Ukraine-Russia war

  • Let alone Taiwan and the South China Sea

Xi arrived at this meeting in a very “accommodating stance.” Why? According to American Journalist David Sanger, in the past meetings there was the feeling on the part of China that China was heading up economically and the US, down. China’s economy may be in the worst shape in the past 40 years. They have a large national debt, a property real estate crisis, young unemployment at 20%, the anti-investment in China approach by the US and many Western countries, as well as the emphasis of creating micro-chips elsewhere. (Biden has framed the chip manufacturing as “a military” issue.)

At that moment, negotiator Xi’s economy is faltering, so he is in a weaker stance. He needs to show that he is a leader and is respected by the US. Xi has basically eliminated his competitors, so he is #1 and the #1 to blame for the weak economy. There is even demonstrators on the streets, especially in Hong Kong.

Using SA, both negotiating parties realize this is also about control and dominance of East Asia. They need to keep their eyes on India, Australia, as well as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Finally, because Xi has even more consolidated his power, he has become the central person to blame for the country’s woes.

Example: Look at the Presenting Problem and the Institutional Cause of the Problem.

So often when problems occur, people become obsessed with the specific problem, but if they are to be effective they need to look at both “the forest and the trees.”

- Congress Member George Santos seems to have lied all the way from Brazilian drag performer to election success. Many blame Santos, rightly so, but there is a bigger problem. One, is the lack of the recall election ability of the voters. Second, voters need to review how on earth was he able to trick the majority of the voters in that district? What about opposition research? Santos is really a symptom of the big issue of the Republican Party led by former President Trump who seems to routinely operate on disinformation and falsehoods.

- Alabama US Senator Tommy Hawley Tuberville, retired football coach, is blocking scores of military appointments. People are angry at him, and rightly so, but there is an institutional issue: one Senator can block the business of the Senate.

(Is our election institution set up so that celebrities such as retired coaches and movie stars are able to win over experienced politicians? Should we not have mandatory voting like Australia? Should we not allow electronic voting so that the young folks vote? Young voters do not mail in ballots or want to stand in line at a church to vote.)

- Several times, a US President has taken office without winning the popular vote. This seems undemocratic. The electoral college surely needs to be fixed. Democracy Now rates the US at #18 meaning “a deficient democracy.”

Example: Hardware Store Negotiation

A District of Columbia neighborhood association was trying to persuade a hardware store to open a branch in their progressing neighborhood. The owner was intrigued but she looked about discovering that Target was planning to open a store ½ mile from the proposed site. This hardware store makes a great deal of money on lightbulb sales and Target can always undercut their lightbulb prices, so they decided no. Thanks goodness for SA.

Example: Home Buying

Common Sense and SA have many commonalities.

  • A first time home owner bought a condo. They sold it one year later when they decided they could not cope with the constant noise from the across-the-street fire station. Of course, this fire station had been there for 32 years.

  • Another home owner sold the home after a year because they could not endure the constant foot traffic and parking emanating from the nearby school, which had also been there for decades.

  • Finally, the third home owner is selling their home in DC because of the chaos of the 24/7 gas station ½ block away and the 24/7 pizza delivery store also one block away. Several gangs hang out at both places. If there is to be a shooting or stabbing in the neighborhood, this is where it would be. Of course, these were all pre-existing conditions before the home purchase.

Example: Mobile Phone Users

Most would agree that mobile phone users need a large dose of SA. Standing in the middle of the street intersection, or middle of the sidewalk using the phone is not wise, nor is using the phone while driving equating to distracted driving. Using the phone while in the bathroom stall while doing “the business” seems quite uncivil and lacking of SA.

Example: Gym Lockers

At one District of Columbia gym there are 300 day lockers. At any one time, 25 are being used. Yet, the next gym guest will use a locker right beside the already used lockers causing a crowd. There seems to be a complete lack of awareness of the other 275 lockers. They are in their own world.

Example: Driving

One can only imagine how many so-called accidents could have been averted if drivers had SA. How many times has a driver parked the car and without thinking swung their car door open into the bike path knocking down bicyclists? How many times have drivers been on their phones while driving, creating a hazard for all? Of course, in any survey, 80% + of drivers say they perform “above average.” In actuality, probably only 20% would be rated as careful drivers. This is called Illusory Superiority; that is, thinking that one is better at a skill than they really are.

BTW: The term “accident” is used loosely. Accidents usually mean that they are unforeseen. If one is driving with SA, this may not be an accident but a collision?

Example: International

President Joe Biden and his administration must use SA in their management of the Israel-Hamas War. Surely they need to focus on the protection of the Israel and Palestinian people AND they need to have awareness of the impact on,

  • Qatar

  • Syria

  • Jordan

  • Iran

  • Russia

  • Saudi Arabia

  • Yemen

  • Egypt

This does sound like an exhausting list, but necessary.

Example: District of Columbia Metrorail

Johns Hopkins University (JU), with its home base, Baltimore, desired that the Dupont Circle Metro Rail stop include the name of JU. They launched a major, costly campaign. They hired former Council Member (LS) to represent them. They scheduled a major presentation before the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). JU invested highly in creating lovely, large placards of other metro rail stations that contained the names of universities such as:

  • Foggy Bottom, George Washington University

  • Shaw, Howard University

  • Tenleytown, American University.

The ANC voted, 9-0 against the motion. What happened?

Recommendation: Situational Awareness! This is what JU lacked in the name negotiation campaign.

Neighborhood affiliation: If JU has been a better planner using SA, they would have surveyed the neighborhood. If they had, they would have learned that the immediate neighborhood did not enjoy the presence of JU. JU was never seen as a contributor to the neighborhood.

Other Metro Stations: The ANC could have cared less about other Metro Rail stop names so spending the money on the laminated posters was not persuasive.

Their spokesperson: They choose a spokesperson who was not relevant to this ANC.

Ronald Reagan National Airport Metro Station: JU should have studied this case. The Republican US Congress ordered the local transportation authority to change the name of the airport metro station. WMATA (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority) voted resoundingly NO because it would be so costly. Congress threatened to deny funding if WMATA failed to do so. Because of this threat, the metro station was renamed. The DC metro area was seething because of this threating Congressional approach. Then along comes a large international university based on Baltimore!

Ironically, this university has a new DC headquarters. They left the Dupont Circle neighborhood to a Pennsylvania Avenue location in the shadow of the Capitol.)

Sluggers Come Home Negotiation Example

This case example is often used in teaching negotiation at law schools. It was developed by Stanford University Business School. The presenting issue is the leasing of the newly-renovated baseball field. To negotiate this issue effectively the parties should be goal-oriented, but at the same time, take a broad look around to discern what other issues might be affecting this particular negotiation.

  • Are people still actively attending Minor League Baseball?

  • What are the nearby Minor Leagues?

  • How is the jurisdiction or county or city doing? Is it gaining population or losing or stagnating?

  • How is the local economy?

Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail. JU either did not plan or had faulty planning. In the ideal, JU would have surveyed the immediate neighborhood to discern the reputation. If they had, they would have discovered, JU was viewed,

- As an interloping university

- No value to the neighborhood since residences were prioritized

- Created parking issues

If they had accomplished this survey, they probably would have halted the campaign and instead started a campaign to add value to the neighborhood. They could have participated in neighborhood clean-ups. Maybe adopted a park. Maybe create a children’s playground. All of this after time probably would have changed their reputation.

Making Assumptions: JU made several erroneous assumptions going into the ANC meeting.

  • They assumed that the Dupont Circle Commissioners cared about what other neighborhoods and other metro rail stations have done. Not so much.

  • They assumed that the former Council Member could be persuasive with this ANC. Not so much. In fact, there existed the feeling that JU was using this former Council Member for power reasons expecting the little ANC to cave in.

Placing the situation in context. There has just occurred in a raging battle between the local jurisdiction and the then-Republican Congress. The Congress desired to rename National Airport to include “Reagan.” The DC jurisdiction had not only not voted for Reagan, he was reviled because of federal interference with the DC jurisdiction and his ignoring the HIV/AIDS crisis. They voted not to rename. The Congress threatened to withhold funds and thereby, forcing the name change.

Remember the old saying: A person pushed against their will is of the same opinion still.

This was the background situation to this metro rail station being renamed to include the university. Poor timing based on the lack of situational awareness.

Example: Creation of the Night Prosecutor’s Mediation Program

One might wonder how on earth did a criminal justice law professor create the first criminal mediation program? It was a confluence of events:

Criminalization of Civil Infractions

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s there was a feeling among the legal establishment that civil courts were so busy that justice could not be found. The so-called “little things” took too much time to go through this system. One idea was to criminalize what most folks would believe to be civil, including:

  • Passing bad checks

  • Failure to cut tall grass in front yard.

  • Failure to return license plates after violations.

Court Ruling on Filing a Criminal Action

A Franklin County Judge in the early 1970’s declared that if a person alleged all of the elements of a criminal charge, it must be filed regardless of the opinion of the prosecutor’s office. This resulted in a vast increase in criminal charges.

LEAA: The U.S. Department of Justice wanted to spark innovative programs and so they created LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Administration). LEAA provided the seed money for these experimental programs.

Friendship of City Attorney and Law Professor

Capital University School of Law (Columbus, Ohio) Criminal Law Professor John Palmer had served as a U.S. Attorney for the US Department of Justice so he had the connection. He was also good friends with the elected City Attorney James J. Hughes.

Thus, Palmer on behalf of the law school applied for seed monies from LEAA for what many consider the first criminal mediation program at least in the United States, maybe the world.* It was called, the Night Prosecutor’s Mediation Program since the mediations were scheduled at a convenient evening time. This program used law students as mediators.

Some years later, the program acquired social work interns to serve as counselors along side of the mediators. By 1979, the program was mediating half of all criminal complaints that came to the prosecutor’s office. The office received approximately 80 daily complaints.

*There has been a long tradition of neighborhoods, tribes, et al using forms of mediation to resolve minor disputes.

Other Examples

Shared Bicycles and Scooters-DC. In Washington, D.C., shared scooters and bikes are popular. There are hundreds available. The primary users are Young Folks. Often these bikes/scooters will be parked in the middle of wheel chair ramps or in the middle of the sidewalks. The users are oblivious of these parking obstacles for others.

Front Gates Left Open. Each AM in DC, score of professionals leave their townhomes looking quite professional and yet they leave the front gates wide open obstructing passers-by.

What is the connection between effective problem-solving and SA?

According to ChatGPT:

Problem solving and SA are closely linked and often go hand in hand. They are both essential cognitive processes that play a crucial role in decision-making and effective performance, especially in complex and dynamic environments…Problem solving: It refers to the process of finding solutions to challenging or novel situations that require some form of analysis, creativity and decision-making…SA is essential for making informed decisions. It enables individuals to assess the current situation and anticipate future events, helping them to decide on appropriate courses of action…Effective problem solvers can quickly adapt to changing circumstances by identifying and implementing solutions, which further enhances SA…In summary, problem-solving and SA are interconnected cognitive processes that support and reinforce each other. Individuals with strong SA are likely to be better problem-solvers, and effective problem solvers tend to have heightened SA, leading to improved decision-making and performance in various situations.

How Does an Effective Negotiator Incorporate SA?

One wants and needs information not only to attain the goal, but to discern what other issues could affect this negotiation. This calls for excellent communication skills:

  • Asking open ended questions

  • Listening

  • Summarizing

  • Talking less

In order to use SA, effective negotiators need involved folks to be open and honest. These two are not necessarily linked. To engender openness and honesty, the effective negotiator needs to at least be liked, if not trusted.

Questioning is a skill: When some read the advice of questioning, they think they should ask more questions. That is part of the skill. Effective negotiators ask 3x as many questions as average negotiators. AND, the quality of questions is a great issue Regrettably, most questionees are not that open or honest. The questions need to set the stage for both.

In everyday life, people rarely ask open questions: What happened? How are you feeling? What’s up? Open questions are valuable because they solicit lots of information. Often questioners are uncomfortable with open questions because the responder controls the information. Yet, this is how one gets to the underlying interests or the events that may be happening on the periphery that may impact the negotiation.

Question Skill Tips

Ask a clear well-thought question, not double or triple questions. Most folks do not believe that they ask double/triple questions until they read a transcript or hear a recording of their conversation. Usually, a double question is trying to clarify the first, not well crafted question.

Example: Real Time Moderator Bill Maher asks Senator Ted Cruz,

Is Joe Biden the President? Was the election fair? Did Biden win?

  • If a person asks a question, value that question and either respond immediately or let them know when you will respond. This valuing and listening leads to the person liking and trusting you.

  • Let the person ask the full question before you begin answering.

  • Do your best to avoid questions beginning with “why." The so-called “why” question solicits much information but can be irritating thinking it is too direct.

  • After one asks a question, listen fully to the answer. Often people interrupt the full answer and the important part may be at the very end.

Listening is a skill

Most people do not think much about this skill. Most people believe that they listen well. Research paints a different picture. Most people are listening at about a 25% effectiveness level. Most people are simply hearing and not listening. One way to improve listening is to plan ahead. Most research indicates that one major reason that people are not listening effectively is that they are planning in their heads what they are going to do or say. If you plan ahead, taking notes, you already know most of your response and can listen effectively.

Linking Critical Thinking, Emotional Intelligence, and Humility Intelligence with SA

Other blog entries have focused on the skills listed above. They all come to play with SA.

Critical Thinking

CT is basically thinking logically. It could be deductive or inductive thinking as long as the negotiator knows which one they are using.

Emotional Intelligence

EI is essentially self-awareness. EI is being aware that emotions and personalities are a part of every situation. Managing them effectively is the key.

Humility Intelligence

HI is realizing that one person does not have all of the answers, that a person can learn from other people and experiences and that sometimes, one may be wrong. Sometimes this is called “intellectual humility (IH).”

According to the Washington Post, IH sets the stage “to be open to rethinking our attitudes and beliefs…people with high IH tend to investigate and scrutinize misinformation more often, be more discerning of the strength of an argument, are intrinsically motivated to learn and are more engaged with feedback.”

(Please visit these three skills in other blog website entries.)


There’s an old saying: You can’t see the forest for the trees. An effective negotiator uses their critical thinking skills and sees both the forest and the trees. They have set goals and will reach those goals. They have focus AND they walk about the periphery to discern what issues may have an impact on the negotiation and the achievement of the goals. Besides using the critical thinking skills, the effective negotiator must also call upon their emotional intelligence and humility intelligence.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.

Conflict Management and School Peer Mediation Manual, Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray.


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