Last Updated Jun 30, 2008 11:20 AM EDT
Dr. Nathanson, a social psychologist who is an expert in conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and leadership, shared with me some of the tactics the pros use to defuse combative situations and broker agreement.
1. Talk face-to-face. "Many studies have shown that any kind of negotiation is best done face to face," she says. "More than 55 percent of any message depends on the nonverbal cues."
2. Apologize (if appropriate) and empathize. Put yourself in the other person's shoes; say something like, "I understand why you're angry. If I had my budget cut by 25 percent, I'd be unhappy too."
3. But don't suck up. Ingratiation is always risky, says Dr. Nathanson, because it makes your adversary suspect you have a hidden agenda -- or at the very least that you're insincere.
4. Remain calm and friendly in the face of aggression. Ignore insults and don't get baited into losing your temper."It's very hard to be nasty to someone who keeps calm," says Dr. Nathanson.
5. Find common ground. "You want to seek areas of commonality and stress them," says Dr. Nathanson. "When people feel similar they are more likely to view each other positively."
6. Invite collaboration. Ask your opponent to brainstorm a solution with you; this defines the situation as a mutual problem instead of a "you versus me" conflict.
7. Listen more than you talk. When the other guy is talking, don't spend your quiet time crafting a rebuttal; try to understand his perspective instead of just finding ways to buttress yours.
8. Avoid blame and issue expansion. Focus on the problem at hand instead of arguing about who is at fault or bringing up past transgressions.
9. Stay flexible and open-minded. Be willing to be creative to find a solution. Don't automatically dismiss the other person's suggestions as crazy or unworkable.
10. Finally, don't set solutions in stone. Agree to revisit the agreement down the road to make sure it's still working.