Lesson 16: Negotiation
Topic: Topical Passage: Philippians 2:3-4
[Note: This lesson is adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). For more information, see Peacemaker® Ministries (https://pm.training).]
We started this study on peacemaking back in April; and at this point, you may be wondering, “What more is there to say?” We’re almost done, but there are still a couple of loose ends to wrap up. One of those loose ends has to do with settling material issues.
Up until now, we’ve focused primarily on settling personal issues, on restoring relationships. But we all know that in the real world, conflict often involves material issues, as well. For instance, let’s say you get in a fight with your neighbor about where to draw the property line. Both of you get angry and say things you shouldn’t have said. So later, both of you apologize. But there’s still a question that needs to be answered, right? What is that question? (Where to draw the property line!) Now, hopefully, that question will be easier to answer now that you’re no longer mad at each other. But the problem doesn’t just evaporate!
So what we are going to look at this morning are some biblical principles of negotiation. How can we work together to solve problems while pleasing God and loving one another? Turn to Philippians 2:3-4 (Philip 2:1-4).
I taught a Sunday school lesson on these verses a while back. And I said there were two possible interpretations of the last phrase in v. 3. “Let each esteem others better than himself” could either mean, “Trick yourself into thinking you are the lowest human being on the totem pole” (which is somewhat absurd), or, “Value others more than yourself.” So according to the first option, you should think to yourself, “Oh, he’s smarter than I am! She’s prettier than me! Everyone at this church is godlier than I am! I’m so little! I’m so insignificant! Etc.” But do you see how self-centered that actually turns out to be? Whereas according to the second option, you don’t necessarily think any particular thoughts about yourself! You simply treat others as if they were more valuable than you, and you look out for their interests as well as your own, as v. 4 tells us to do.
A slogan I’ve learned for remembering this is that “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is what? (“…thinking of yourself less.”)
So how does that apply to negotiation? Well, let me give you a typical example of negotiation: the garage sale. (We got together with several families in the church recently and had a garage sale.) So the toaster is listed for $10, and some guy wants to buy it. What happens next? He says, “Will you take $5?” You say, “Wow, I bought that new two years ago… it’s hasn’t got much use… how about $9?” He says, “Oh no, it’s dirty! It’s got cheese all over the inside. I’ll give you $6.” You say, “8”; he says he’s only got $7 in his wallet; you roll your eyes and say, “Fine.”
That is a typical example of what we call competitive negotiation. Each person brings certain demands to the table, and then one-by-one, they make compromises until they meet somewhere in the middle. Think of competitive negotiation like a tug-of-war: each person is pulling hard for what he wants, and the other person is expected to look out for himself–either that or get a bad deal.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t barter at garage sales, but can you see any weaknesses in that process? What are some weaknesses of competitive negotiation?
First, it’s based on selfishness, rather than on love. Again, the assumption is that both people will look out for themselves and then meet somewhere in the middle. But what does Philippians 2:4 say? (“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”) So let me ask you a question: should you look out for your own interests? Yes! Philippians 2:4 actually says that, and it would be impossible to exist in this world without doing so. However, it can’t stop there! I am commanded to look out for your interests, too. And you are commanded to do the same.
So this isn’t about being doormats. It’s about engaging the other person in a cooperative process so that rather than fighting one another, we are working together to come up with mutually beneficial solutions.
Of course, Philippians 2:4 is not the only place we find this command to love one another. What’s the second great commandment, according to Jesus? (“love your neighbor as yourself”; that’s in Matthew 22:39) And in Matthew 7:12, Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Sometimes we call that, “The Golden Rule.” And in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that love “does not seek its own”–in other words, it focuses on the interests of others.
So cooperative negotiation is a process in which both parties are working together to come up with mutually beneficial solutions.
Now, I can guess what some of you are thinking. “Pastor Kris, when pigs fly, that’ll work. Until then, it’s not realistic.” And to a certain extent, I understand what you’re saying. People are always going to be selfish. And that’s why you can never get away from looking out for your own interests, as Philippians 2:4 implies. Also, Jesus tells us to be “wise as serpents.” However, as Christians, we must also look out for the interests of others, which means that we will work with them, not against them, as much as possible.
In the world, that may be difficult at times, because it’s hard to cooperate with someone who refuses to be reasonable or even give an inch. But we must at least try! And by doing so, we can be a great testimony and bring glory to God.
But among God’s people, cooperative negotiation should be the norm, as all of us are seeking to live out the Bible’s commands.
Now, besides being the right thing to do, cooperative negotiation has tons of benefits. It leads to better, more creative solutions and it often saves time. But more importantly, it preserves personal relationships.
Have you ever walked away from a negotiation thinking, “Well, I got a good deal… but I hope I never have to talk to that person again, or else that could be awkward!” Why? Because you sacrificed the relationship in order to get a good deal. As Christians, we should never do that! People are more important than things, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Now, they’re not more important than God, so on some things, we should never compromise. But people are always more important than stuff! DO NOT sacrifice relationships for the sake of a good deal.
So that answers the “why” question. But now what about the “how” question: how does cooperative negotiation work? Sande gives a helpful, five-step approach that he calls the PAUSE method.
Proverbs 14:22 says, “Do they not go astray who devise evil? But mercy and truth belong to those who devise good.” This is one of many verses in the Bible that commend godly planning. It is a good and noble thing for a person to make plans in order to do what is right. So… prepare to negotiate. How do I do that?
Here are some suggestions:
- Study the Bible – Are there any biblical principles that apply?
- Pray – Prayer is one of the most important parts of planning.
- Research – As much as possible, don’t go into the conversation blind. Read pertinent documents, interview witnesses, etc.
- Identify Issues and Interests – This point I found very helpful. Do you understand the difference between an issue and an interest? The issue is the problem. The interests are the values that are driving the various people who are involved. So make a list of your interests and then make a list of the other person’s A good solution will account for everyone’s interests. Of course, the challenging thing is that the more complicated the issue and the more people who are involved, the more interests there are to consider.
- Brainstorm – What are some possible solutions?
- Anticipate – How is the other person likely to respond to these options? Which option do you prefer? How would you go about defending it? What will you do if an agreement cannot be reached?
- Choose an Appropriate Time and Place – And make sure to choose a setting in which the other person will feel comfortable.
- Plan Your Opening Remarks – Like we said when we talked about confrontation, it’s impossible to map out an entire conversation. However, you can at least know what you will say to begin with and where you plan to go from there.
- Seek Counsel – Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.
Now you may be wondering, “That all sounds really good in theory, but what exactly does that look like?” Sande gives an excellent extended illustration in his book, and I’d like to adapt that in order to help you visualize what I’m talking about
So you live in Apple Valley… you’ve got a half-acre plot… and you’ve got these neighbors. Your kids play together out in the yard sometimes… you’ve learned their names, Steve and Sally… but that’s about the extent of the relationship.
Now, these neighbors breed Border collies, and three weeks ago, they got a new dog that barks incessantly. You and your husband already have trouble sleeping, and this just made it worse. But worse yet, now your kids are even waking up in the middle of the night; and yesterday, your youngest was complaining about being tired at school! To make matters even more frustrating, your neighbor Steve goes out and feeds and plays with the dogs at 5 AM before leaving for work, which gets them all wound up, and they all start barking.
So you catch Sally in her driveway the next day, make some small talk, and then mention the dog barking. She apologizes, and it gets better for a while. But then it’s right back to the same ol’ thing.
So let’s talk about this. What are some ways you could deal with this problem? I suppose you could put your house up for sale. You could try to ignore it and hope you get used to it. Or, you could plan a conversation and try to come up with a solution. Let’s say you decide to go that route. You say, “My sleep is really important to me. I think we need to talk about this.” What’s the first thing you need to do, according to Sande’s PAUSE method? (prepare)
So before going to bed each night, you start praying for the Smiths and you take some time to think through biblical principles that apply. Next, you do some research. You keep a log of exactly when the dog barks. You look up some information online about Border collies and dog breeding, etc.
Next, you need to identify the issues and interests. What is the underlying issue? (the dog barking) Now what are some side issues? (your family’s inability to sleep) What are your interests in the situation? (getting enough sleep and not being annoyed) Now, based on what you know, what may be the interests of your neighbors? (having a second income, maybe they really like dogs, being able to feed the dogs before they leave for work)
Now let’s brainstorm. Can you think of any potential solutions to this problem? (sell the dog, teach it not to bark, buy a shock collar, feed the dogs at night instead of in the morning, buy earplugs or a white noise machine, etc.) Now think to yourself, how are Steve and Sally likely to respond to these options? Which option do you prefer? What will you do if an agreement cannot be reached?
Let’s say that you notice that your neighbors usually relax on Sunday, so you decide that Sunday afternoon is a good time to broach the topic. Also, you offer to meet at their house, so that they will feel more comfortable.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “That sounds like of work” … and you’re right–it is. But think about this: either you’ll spend time awake in bed at night and grumbling the next day, OR you’ll spend time solving the problem. As Ken Sande says, “It will not be a question of whether you spend time on the problem; it will be a question of where or how you spend time on the problem.” So you might as well put in your time coming up with a solution!
That’s the “P” for “Prepare.” Next we have the “A” for “Affirm.”
Affirm your respect and concern for the other person. Why do you think it’s important to do this? (obedience to Scripture, avoids personal conflict, more likely to come to an agreeable solution)
What are some ways that you could affirm your respect and concern for Steve and Sally? One way to show love to them would be by requesting a meeting rather than demanding it. And then, once you actually get together, you could plan some sincere compliments into your opening remarks. Avoid jumping to conclusions about their motives. If the other person is your authority, make sure that he or she knows that you respect his or her position and will submit to their decision, even if you disagree. Give the other person a chance to explain his perspective, and listen intently. Mention the other person’s interests that you took time to think through, and see if your assumptions are correct. Speak in a gracious manner, and try to avoid backing the other person into a corner. Finally, give praise and thanks wherever possible.
So when you sit down with Steve and Sally, you’re careful not to imply that they are deliberately being irresponsible. You explain your side of the story, but then you also ask them to share their thoughts and feelings. You’re gracious, you’re empathetic, and you listen carefully.
That’s the “A.” Now “U” is for “Understand Interests.
Sande points out that some interests are simple and straightforward–“Our family needs the extra income”–whereas others are more ambiguous–“I don’t want my kids to see my neighbors pushing me around.” So it’s going to take sensitivity on your part in order to discern the other person’s interests.
Sande also points out the difference between an interest and a position. Your position is your preferred solution; your interests are your reasons. Many times, positions are incompatible. If your position going into the conversation is “You must get that dog a shock collar,” and your neighbors’ position is, “Buy some earplugs,” those don’t go together. And what often happens is that two people butt heads over their positions without taking time to understand one another’s interests. Positions are often incompatible; interests are often very compatible!
Can you think of an example in the Bible where someone focused on an interest rather than a position? (Daniel and his friends, when they were asked to eat the king’s meat; Abraham and Lot; Esther; David and Abigail
One of the best Scriptural examples of this is the story of David and Abigail. Turn with me to 1 Samuel 25. We don’t have time to read this whole chapter, so I’ll paraphrase the first part of the story.
David and his mighty men are hiding from Saul when they cross paths with a man named Nabal, who is very rich, but also very wicked. David’s men were kind to Nabal’s shepherds and protected them from harm, so when it came time to shear the sheep, David sent ten of his men to Nabal to request appropriate compensation. Instead, they got insults and a flat denial. Nabal even went so far as to question David’s character. When David found out, he was furious! Hey says, “Strap on your swords, boys,” and he and four hundred of his men take off to teach Nabal a lesson.
So what is the issue here? (whether or not Nabal will pay David) What is Nabal’s position? (“I’m not giving him a dime!”) What is David’s position? (“You talk about me that way and I’ll kill you!”) Talk about an explosive situation, with horrible consequences for God’s anointed!
Well, in steps the hero of the story, Nabal’s wife, Abigail. One of Nabal’s servants runs to warn Abigail of the impending disaster, and she comes right away. But she doesn’t come empty-handed–she brings with her two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. This is David’s payment. And she arrives just in the nick of time. She intercepts him and his men right before they arrive to slaughter Nabal and all of his male servants. And I want you to see how she appeals to David (vv. 24-31).
Isn’t that masterfully worded? What are some things that stand out to you about Abigail’s appeal? She certainly is reverent and deferential! She calls him “lord” fourteen times. And I love especially her reference to the sling!
But more importantly in terms of our discussion, she appeals to David’s interests. He wanted payment. She brought him payment. He wanted respect. She was very respectful. He was furious that Nabal would question his integrity. She affirmed his innocence, Saul’s guilt, and the fact that God would protect David. But even more importantly, she appealed to his conscience. At the climax of her speech, she said, “When you reign as king someday, I would hate for this slaughter to be on your conscience.” Could she possibly have known that David just spared Saul’s life the chapter before, because of his sensitive conscience? I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure: her appeal hit home (vv. 32-35).
So back to the barking dog illustration. Let’s say that you sit down to the planned meeting at your neighbors’ house and begin to talk through the situation. At first, your neighbors are awkward and uncomfortable, so they state their position rather dogmatically: “Listen, I’m not sure what this is about, but we are not getting rid of our dogs! If that’s what you want, you can forget it!” But rather than being drawn into a battle of positions, you say something like, “I can tell your dogs are very important to you, and I am not at all suggesting that you get rid of them. I’m just looking for a solution that’s workable for all of us.” And then you go into sharing some of your interests. And then you hear some more of their interests.
Let’s say that after your meeting with Steve and Sally, you come up with these additional interests:
1) Sally’s dad breeds dogs, too, and the dog that’s particularly a problem is the grandson of her favorite dog growing up.
2) You get the sense that Steve doesn’t particularly like his “day job,” but he takes great pride in his ability to breed and train Border collies. Also, he would like to fix up his yard to make it more appealing to potential customers.
3) Steve and Sally have a shock collar, and they’re not necessarily opposed to using it to train the dog. However, someone broke into their house two years ago, and so now, a barking dog is actually a comfort to Sally.
This is going to be an uphill battle! But you still want to make it work, so you press on. The fourth step in the PAUSE method is “S” for “Search for solutions.”
Search for Solutions
At this point in the process, you want to be as creative as possible. This is the time for “wild brainstorming.” Should we move? Should the neighbors buy a security system? Can they keep the dogs inside? Everything is on the table. Of course, if you find a solution that everybody likes, you’re done! But if not, you keep thinking.
Let’s say that during the course of your conversation, it occurs to you that the dog is probably barking at cars driving by, since your neighbor’s house is on the corner. So you ask him, “Steve, have you ever thought about putting up a fence?” He says, “Well, I was going to put up those slats, but I never got around to it.” You say, “I’d donate a Saturday to help you! The dogs might bark less if they can’t see the cars.”
At the same time, your wife asks Sally if she has ever looked into those do-it-yourself home security systems, and she says no. So she pulls out her phone and starts to show her some reviews and how much cheaper they are than the professional services.
You also realize that both of your neighbors work long hours, and the dog run is on the side of the yard closest to your house. Maybe you could move it to the other side of the yard, and in the process of doing so, you could fix it up and make it a lot nicer.
As you talk about these options, you want to try to “sell” them to your neighbors by discussing each of the ways that the options benefit them. Free labor on a yard project that’s been sitting on their list for a year. The comfort of a home security system at a much more reasonable price than they had expected. A nicer dog run, which would appeal to potential customers. These are the kinds of things that you want to focus on.
The final step in the PAUSE method is to evaluate options objectively and reasonably.
This is the point at which things can degenerate. You’ve got fifteen options on the table, but not all of them will work. So which option will you choose? If you allow selfishness and emotion to guide you now, the whole process could fall apart. So it’s very important to be reasonable and objective and to think of others at this point.
Which options are unreasonable? Well you’re not going to move, and your neighbors are not going to get rid of the dog. You’re probably not going to wear earplugs every night, and you’re not going to adjust your whole family’s sleep schedule. Nor are your neighbors going to do anything that costs them money they weren’t already planning to spend.
So let’s say that after talking for an hour or so, you can tell your neighbors are getting worn out. So you say, “Let’s take some time to think about it, and meet again in a week.”
During that time, you do some more research, and you learn that Border collies need lots of attention. You wonder if your twelve-year-old daughter, who homeschools, could go over there from time to time and play with the dogs. Also, your wife looks up the cost of various security systems.
A week later you go back to your neighbors, and your wife hands Sally a security system. She says, “I found this on sale for $159. It’s pretty basic, but you can add to it. If you don’t want it, I’ll return it, but it’s a free gift from us to you. We thought that if you knew your house was secure, you might feel better about training the dog not to bark.” Also, you say to Steve, “I’ve looked at my schedule,” and my son and I can be free any of the next four Saturdays to help you move that dog run. Also, we’d love to help with any other yard projects you’ve got while we’re at it. I’ve got a friend who’s getting rid of a bunch of pavers if you could use them; we could help you put them down. We’d also love to help you put those slats in, whenever you’re ready to start that project.” Also, you mention that if the dogs could use some more attention during the day, your daughter would be more than happy to play with them.
Your neighbors are floored, and they offer to pay you back, which you were expecting. So you say, “No, we don’t want any payment, but I might be able to use your help in a couple months on some projects I’ve got going. Also, our daughter loves your puppies and her birthday is coming up. Maybe you could hold one from the next litter for us?” At that point, your neighbors just light up! “Oh ya! Definitely! We’ll give her the pick of the litter, and we’ll give you a big discount, too!” And then you chat happily for a while and then head back over to your house. You pray things get better; but if they don’t, you buy a white noise app for your phone. Most importantly, you keep up that relationship with your neighbors and you pray for opportunities to share Christ with them.
When you treat people the way you would like to be treated as it relates to negotiation, you will find that old relationships are salvaged and new relationships are formed. Most importantly of all, God is glorified, and you are given the opportunity to be a testimony to others.