The labor relations process includes three phases, and one of those phases is the negotiation of the labor agreement. The negotiation process involves two different parties; the union, representing the employees, and the management/employer. The outcome of those negotiations has a drastic impact on the work lives of the employees, such as working hours, working conditions, hourly wages, benefits, and other policies. The negotiations also affect the business interests of the employers, such as labor costs, operation costs, and management control.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for both parties to ensure that the negotiating team representing their interests has the necessary skills and abilities to secure what is best for them (Holley, Jennings, & Wolters, 2009).
There are several strategies, tactics, and techniques involved in the negotiation process. That is why I think it is important for both, management and unions to understand the process of negotiation in depth, and understand how critical it is for achieving their goals.
In this essay, I will attempt to answer some of the important question regarding the negotiation process. Questions such as: are negotiation skills intuitive, or can they be acquired? What should management or unions look for when forming their negotiation teams? What are the approaches of negotiation, and why are negotiation skills important? How are labor-management negotiations different from other types of negotiations?
Intuitive or Acquired?
While it is possible for a people to improve their skills as negotiators through experience, practice, and common sense, research has proven that there are techniques in both mediation and negotiation that are counter-intuitive. What this means is that even if a person has years of experience negotiating, and has the ability to apply logic and common sense to all situations, he or she will not learn those techniques without proper training (Lawson, 2009). “Because they are counter-intuitive, training is required. Then that training must be internalized. Once internalized, the concepts must be practiced and honed into skills. Trained attorney mediators utilize the skills common to both mediation and negotiation. If they use their training, they are very effective.”(para. 5)
Forming Negotiation Teams
If negotiation skills were a natural talent that cannot be taught, then there would not be a lot that management or unions can do to improve those skills. However, since it is in fact a skill that can be acquired through training, I think both negotiating parties would benefit from investing in training some or all members of their negotiation teams.
Looking at both employers and unions, we can confidently assume that unions will almost always have skilled labor relations negotiators on their teams, because negotiation is essentially their job. Employers on the other hand will most likely lack experienced and skilled negotiators on their team; they may have members of management who are experienced in labor relations, but not necessarily good negotiators. And this is why I believe employers, especially those in industries that are susceptible to union organization, should look into investing in training the people who are expected to be involved in any negotiation agreement processes, such as HR directors and line managers.
Negotiation Approaches and Relation to Skills
There are two negotiation approaches that can be used in a bargaining situation: disruptive bargaining and mutual gain bargaining. The disruptive bargaining approach views the two parties’ interests as being in conflict, and that the negotiation process is a win-lose scenario where one party’s gain must come at the expense of the other. Mutual gain bargaining, or interest-based bargaining, on the other hand focuses on mutual problem solving through open and honest communication about each party’s interests (Holley et al., 2009).
So why are good negotiation skills important? They are important because negotiation is not about winning, it is about compromise, and skilled negotiators know that; they know how to separate emotions and personal opinions from facts, and how to avoid conflict in order to achieve successful agreements.
The difference between successful and unsuccessful negotiations is that in successful negotiations, everybody comes out of it feeling like a winner. If either one of the two parties feels like a loser, then negotiations cannot really be considered successful. That is because the party that ends up feeling like a loser at the end of the negotiations will not buy into the follow-up action resulting from the agreement, and will probably never trust the other party again (Raman, 2010).
I think that the phrase “everybody comes out of it (the agreement) feeling like a winner” does not necessarily mean that both parties need to compromise some of their interests in order to reach a win-win situation. We all negotiate with other people around us in almost daily basis, when buying services or products for example, and I am positive that in many of the occasions in which we were happy with the outcome of the deal we negotiated, we were in fact led to believe, by better negotiators, that we came out of the agreement as winners.
If we look at this fact in the light of a labor relations’ negotiation agreement process, having skilled negotiators on the team provides a huge advantage for one party over another. In such a large scale negotiation agreement, this advantage could translate into enormous amounts of benefits/savings depending on which side of labor agreement has the advantage.
Labor-Management Negotiations Are Different
Labor-management negotiations are different from many other types of bargaining. In most other types of bargaining, the relationship between the two parties ends at the conclusion of the agreement. Labor-management bargaining on the other hand, involves an on-going relationship between both parties, and once the agreement is finalized, both parties must continue to deal with each other to resolve any arising disagreements. The relationship is not just a factor to consider in one’s strategy, it is the reason for the negotiation (Shea, 2002).
Negotiation is both an art and a science, and I think it is only logical for both unions and management to try to maximize the benefits that can be derived from having negotiation skills and techniques at their disposal. Especially when the stakes are high and fostering a long-term relationship is an important goal. I see having the appropriate negotiation skills and techniques as an advantage for one negotiating party over another, and even if both parties are equal in terms of negotiation knowledge and experience, it is still a win-win situation where both parties can negotiate reasonably and logically without emotions and pride getting in the way and leading to unnecessary impasses.