How to Have Difficult Conversations

We at Mobus Creative Negotiating have long described how most American negotiators detest disagreement. They want to be liked by everyone including the other side in negotiations, and therefore they feel uncomfortable about anything which could cause conflict. Recognizing that being effective in business requires confronting this attitude head-on, the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has created a course, “Difficult Conversations: Conflict Lab.” Students role-play dealing with difficult situations. They learn that “trying to be nice” by not directly raising problems only postpones, and often makes worse, the situation, leading to an eventual big blow-up.

As a November 28, 2022 Wall Street Journal article about the course The Class Where Future Bosses Learn How to Deliver Bad News, (behind a paywall) described, “a central tenet of the course is that, before getting into a conflict, workers need to determine what a successful outcome would be.” We at Mobus Creative Negotiating, like the Berkeley course, teach you that “success” does NOT mean the other side likes you but instead that you advance the interests of your firm. As the WSJ article explains, sometimes that means the conversation does NOT lead to a resolution of the conflict. Instead, it lets the two sides more openly communicate and lets each side figure out their own needs. What the course does, and what we at Mobus Creative Negotating do, is offer lessons in how to navigate a difficult situation – how to disagree without being disagreeable – and how to deal with outcomes you think are unfair.

Mobus Creative Negotiating cannot wave a magic wand that makes you like – or even be comfortable with – conflict. What we can do is prepare you with a realistic understanding that conflict is inevitable in any negotiation – the very reason for the negotiation is that the two sides disagree. And we offer lessons about how to navigate tricky situations.