It is during a crisis period that your investment in good relationships will hold you in good stead. Your negotiations with others will be more complex as you (and them) will need to strategically balance short term survival and long-term recovery and sustainability. And your crisis decisions need to be made swiftly. Trusted relationships will effectively inform and accelerate your decisions, and the implementation thereof.
Because we are unsure how long the Covid-19 pandemic will remain a crisis, it is even more incumbent that during negotiations, these good relationships are maintained to continuously inform the decisions of all parties.
These are three important steps to maintain your relationships:
#1: Engage stakeholders
Meet with key stakeholders yourself, identify common interests and possible conflicting interests. Share your objectives, whether as a business or a union, and agree that you will work together towards a clearly identified goal. Stakeholders who feel consulted are more vested in the process and are more likely to stick it out when things are looking bleak.
#2: Communicate often
Communicate widely and often. In a crisis, clear communication and decisive action can ease tension and build trust. Be honest when you do not have all the answers. Ask for suggestions on ways you could move forward, and openly consider the response. By communicating openly and often, you will be able to connect with people more easily, and it gives others permission to engage more openly with you. Essentially, the more open the engagement, the better the discussions will be, which will lead to better outcomes and more robust relationships.
#3 Be gentle
In times of crisis, anxiety and panic are a normal, although unhelpful, responses. Show empathy and understanding, and acknowledge and verbalise your own emotions and sentiments. Honesty and transparency build trust, where parties are more likely to be open to sharing interests, move from positions, leading to better discussions and better, negotiated outcomes.
When this crisis ends, you will need strong, trusted relationships at every level to take you through the recovery period. Continue to maintain these relationships in the good (and bad) times, so that you have a strong starting position for the next negotiation, whether it be a wage negotiation or a serious, unforeseen predicament.
Kerith Kieser ∙ 15 April 2020
Kerith is an internationally accredited mediator and the COO of Tokiso.
Tokiso Dispute Settlement (Pty) Ltd has 19 years of experience in resolving disputes through negotiation, arbitration and other specialised processes.