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Values: A Vital Consideration in Negotiation and Problem Solving

"Values offer focus amidst chaos." - Glenn C. Stewart

"When you are led by values, it doesn’t cost your business, it helps your business." - Jerry Greenfield (Ben & Jerry's)

"When your values are clear, making decisions become easier." - Roy E. Disney

What Are Values?

Many, when they think about values, instantly associate them with social issues: abortion, gay rights, right to end life, etc. They are right. Values play a major role with these issues and the reasons they are controversial. But values also come to play in negotiation, mediation, and problem solving.

Think of the value statements that have almost have become “sing-song’s:”

-Early bird gets the worm.

-The apple does not fall from the tree.

-Birds of a feather, flock together.

-A leopard does not change its stripes.

-Many a true word is spoken in jest.

-Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

-A stitch in time, saves nine.

-If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.

When one reads the above examples maybe it brings a smile, but actually this is serious. Many folks truly believe some of the above and make decisions, sometimes life decisions, based on these.

What if you are the child of a convicted violent criminal and many believe the “apple” metaphor. You are operating at a distinct disadvantage.

What if you have made a mistake and have changed your life ye,t people believe the “leopard” metaphor. You have a rough road ahead.

Based on US polls during teaching classes, 80% of those surveyed believe “mostly” in the leopard metaphor. They also cite another saying: "If you want to predict someone’s future behavior, examine their present and past behaviors."

In reference to negotiation, think of the other party who effectively accomplishes planning and research before the negotiation. This party discovers that his “negotiation partner” negotiates in good faith, is effective, is honest, and follows through on negotiated agreement. This party will expect this behavior to continue and the negotiation should progress smoothly.

One can also entertain the opposite findings. Maybe the party doing the research decides that they do not want to negotiate with a “take no prisoners,” win/lose, dishonest negotiator. The negotiation fails before it begins.

Difference Between Ethics and Values.

Sometime these two terms are intertwined. Maybe the following helps to distinguish.

-Ethics is how a moral person should behave.

-Values are more inner judgments that determine how a person actually behaves.

-Perhaps values are the highest motivating factor of people’s behavior.

-Our values are the mirror of our personality and are most central to defining who we are.

-Our values are the foundation upon which our lives are built.

Conflict Management Expert Thomas Kilman asserts that 80% of our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are shaped by our surroundings (families, communities, organizations, and nations) and maybe only 20% is the remaining “free will” within those cultural systems.

General Life-Affecting Values

There are many general life-affecting values that may be passed through generations. They may not even be conscious but subconscious.

-Everything happens for a reason.

-When one door closes, another one opens.

-Everything will work out in the end.

-If a person tells you who they are, believe them.

-Ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.

-Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. - Benjamin Franklin

-There are two sides to every story and the truth lies in the middle.

-Sometimes you need to break, before you can fix it.

At first glance, they may not be negotiation relevant, but what if:

-A negotiation reaches a stalemate and one party, maybe even subconsciously, believes that this happened for a reason. Maybe they subconsciously think this stalemate happened because this partnership or this negotiation was not meant to be.

-Maybe one party does not appear for the negotiation and the other party even subconsciously thinks that this door has closed, so they start searching for another partner, another door.

-Maybe the negotiation has reach an impasse which would turn away most parties but the other party seems to take it in stride, amazing others. Maybe this party is guided by the belief that “everything will work out in the end.”

- You are negotiating and the other party believes the above Franklin value. You need to know that and, if true, save your breath. Show them actions.

- You are negotiating and the other party believes the above “two sides” value? You may have to work strategically to demonstrate to them that there may be many sides or maybe no sides and the truth is at issue now.

As an affected party, one wants to know this. One wants to know that motivation and if they don’t like the results, maybe knowing the motive, they can persuade the other party otherwise.

Embedded American Values.

Especially in international negotiations, the values of each country may come to play. For example, there are some basic American (United States) values:

-Most Americans believe in equality; that is, that all parties are created equal.

-Most Americans believe in freedom and justice.

-Most Americans believe in individualism.

These are American core values and may explain behaviors. For example, as a result of these values, many Americans value privacy and their own space. They may not share information about their age, money, politics, sexuality, or religion.

As a result of their equality belief, Americans may be direct and assertive. They may tell the parties directly what they think. They may assert information because they think they are correcting the situation or the information is useful; whereas, in other cultures this may involve “losing face."

Values of Costa Rica as an Example of International Values.

Each country, maybe each region, lives by a set of values that could have an impact on negotiation or mediation with folks from there.

An example might be Costa Rica. Costa Rica is home to an estimated 150,000 US ex-pats, 70,000 Canadian ex-pats, and possibly 30,000 European ex-pats. Costa Rica has no army but will be taken care of by the United Nations (aka United States), if necessary. Because of this, there is a lot of interactions with Costa Rica.

CR is a very humanitarian culture with a deep belief in peace through negotiation. Their culture is traditionally collectivist in contrast to the US’s individualism. They have a strong sense of responsibility towards family and their group. They do not tolerate arrogance from anyone, no matter what position.

Their culture wants to move slowly towards the good of the project, with a strong work ethic. They are highly risk-averse and resist change. There is great dignity in hard work no matter the socio-economic class. There are low levels of gender discrimination.

As one reads through these cultural values, an effective negotiator can discern how each one can affect their negotiation and conflict management process.

Examples of Relevant Values in Negotiation and Other Dispute Resolution Processes.

- I believe that out of conflict arises creative options.

- I believe that negotiation is 50/50 give and take.

- I think if all parties leave equally unhappy, the mediation has been a success.

- I think that parties should agree to good faith negotiation before negotiation.

- I believe it is okay for courts to mandate parties to learn about mediation but not to participate.

- I believe in Collaborative Negotiation so that all parties are concerned about the interests and the goals of all.

-I prefer peace and harmony over conflict.

-I believe that everything is negotiable.

-Negotiation is valuable but there are limits. One cannot negotiate values.

Imagine a negotiator is doing research on the other party negotiator and discovers that the other party believes first in 50/50 give-and-take negotiation and secondly, collaborative negotiation. This is pivotal information. Now, the preparation will be geared towards those two values. All parties coming to the negotiation will anticipate the understanding of all positions, interests, and goals of all parties. This should set the stage for a smooth, creative negotiation leading to a short and long term agreement that could go beyond the expectations of all parties.

Many folks and many books compare negotiation to a division of a pie. Some, may even discuss “expanding the pie.” In collaborative negotiation, parties may do away with the pie completely. They can become creative and transform the negotiation into a productive, creative arrangement.

Consider the negotiation situation where one knows that the other party stresses peace and harmony in life and believes that everything can be negotiated. If one knows this, one might evidence a sigh of relief knowing that all issues are on the table and can be creatively negotiated…

Watch for “I believe” or “Should” phrases.

Some negotiators wonder when the negotiation involves “values.” One way is to watch out for phrases that include such terms as “I believe” or “You should.” Examples:

- Parties should negotiate in good faith.

- Negotiators should problem solve collaboratively.

- I believe negotiators should be honest.

- You should arrive on time for the negotiations.

It is noted in all the examples above that a strong opinion or value is being expressed and most likely will guide the negotiator in their negotiation approach.

Magic Persuasion Formula: Appeal to Values; Appeal to Emotions; Appeal to Facts

An effective negotiator realizes that for persuasion to be successful, they need to persuade to values, emotions, and facts. The concentration of one factor or the other will be tailored to the persuadees.

-Example: A stereotypical engineer or scientist may be more persuaded by facts.

-Example: A stereotypical social worker might be more persuaded by emotions.

In a negotiation portrayed in the Bloodline Series (Netflix/Sony, 2017), the trade negotiation stalls, but then the two begin talking about trust. They share pictures of their children. They talk of “providing for their families” which is of value to both parties. This all results in an agreement.

Values Beyond Money: Negotiators often assume that all situations are about money. It is true that most of the time there are money issues to be negotiated but, more often than not, there are values involved. These values often include the value of partnerships, hard work, diligence, business success, and business reputation. Often a negotiator will declare, "This is more than about money. It is about our relationship!"

Family Businesses: Often in family business negotiations, one hears "Your Father will be proud of you." The Father can be substituted by other family members such as Aunt, Uncle, Grandparent or Mother. So, suddenly this “family pride” becomes the dominant value.

I Will Not Compromise My Values.

This is the mantra one often hears during a conflict management process. Oddly, no one is asking anyone to compromise their values, but this is often an automatic response during problem solving. At the same time, this response needs to be valued and managed. So, the first question is what values do they think are at play. Once they identify those, the effective negotiator can allay their concerns. Maybe their concerns revolve around not telling the truth or losing or giving up too much.

How Does One Discern the Values of Other Negotiators?

This can be a challenge. There are several helpful steps.

Google the Negotiator: Look for speeches, remarks, or awards. Within those, are there values stated? Maybe the value of family, of education, of friendship, of peace and harmony, etc.

Social Media: Social media, especially Facebook, can be revealing of values. What is their cover picture? What about the other pictures? With whom are they communicating? About what are their posts? Include Instagram and Pinterest. “Pictures speak a thousand words.”

Friends, Colleagues, Family Members: If possible c,ontact these contacts. They could be revealing in terms of life values and then, more specific values that may affect the negotiation. Maybe check out how they have behaved in other negotiations or transactions.


Ohio Negotiator Attorney Terry Wheeler:

"When I think about values related to negotiation or parties and their advocates in mediation, I think about the values of fairness and cooperation. People who participate in negotiations and mediations who value 'collective fairness' or 'objective fairness' instead of 'individualized fairness will make different decisions about tactics and potential resolutions…' Negotiations and mediations are more likely to be successful when parties are able to engage with an open-mindedness that allow room to explore objective fairness and cooperation."

Values are at the core of people’s character. Most of the values are nurtured and not really chosen. Values guide people’s behaviors. Some values are general to life and seem amusing, but they are seriously followed either consciously or subconsciously. Other values can have a direct impact on the negotiations or any conflict management process. An effective negotiator questions and discovers these values to understand why other parties are behaving the way they are or saying what they are saying. Once this is discerned, an effective negotiator can strategically respond.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki, David M. Saunders, Bruce Barry

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


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