Assisted Dialogue and Negotiation



The paramount goal of this stage is to reach an agreeable and acceptable conclusion.

The paramount goal of this stage is to reach an agreeable and acceptable conclusion that answers the questions developed in Stages 1 and 2. Although Stage 5 may need to loop back to previous stages, this is conclusion time, the final bargaining and problem solving that culminates the substantive, procedural, and relationship work that has taken place.

The highest possible agreement, accord, concurrence, and conclusion is one that satisfies the greatest number of substantive interests, that is in keeping with good process, that heals old hurts, that creates more certainty about the future than existed at the start, and that leaves relationships in the best possible shape. The most pragmatic goal is to achieve “consent,” not “consensus.”

This phase can be easy and frictionless, a simple “sliding” into a set of natural conclusions or agreements that follow comfortably and logically from the discussions that have come before. Alternatively, this stage can be a time of protracted and dramatic haggling, dickering, and political brinksmanship that require a final Herculean effort by the stakeholders, project sponsors and funders, and by the organizers. Managing the latter requires members to confront the possibility of deadlock and then work to either prevent or break impasse.

It’s important to keep the broader group of stakeholders and their constituencies thoroughly informed to ensure there are no last moment “surprises,” defections, or betrayals.

The best decisions come about when people have brought thoughtful information to the table, evaluated its worth together, and then made nuanced and justifiable value judgments.

The outputs from this stage depend on the assignment:

  • For a “Transactional Agreement,” agreement on the final elements of an agreement.
  • For a “Guidance to Other Decision Makers,” a completed set of joint recommendations.
  • For a “Joint Fact Finding,” the conclusions to the questions that were raised and framed at the beginning and that were informed through negotiated fact gathering.
  • For a “Plan,” key negotiated ingredients and the wording for a vision statement, and/or a set of goals, strategies and objectives, and/or a possible set of action steps accompanied by a timeline.
  • For a “Record of Discussions,” final proposed edits to a record.
  • For an “Explicit Alliance or Partnership,” the terms of a new partnership, alliance, confederation, or merger.
  • There is continuing tension between transparency and privacy.
    Striving for the greatest possible transparency while honoring the need for privacy in bargaining may continue into this phase. It can be managed by ensuring both: Caucusing with some of the parties to help reduce disagreement and having report-backs to the whole group as well as to the press if they are following the course of the project.
  • One or two stakeholders hold everyone else hostage to their final demands.
    This might be a slick negotiating tactic for those one or two stakeholders, but it tends to have a negative effect on others. In rare instances, the other parties may threaten (or actually) collapse the process around the outliers and forge an agreement without them. This may be less than fully satisfying to the facilitator, but is politically acceptable.
  • Agreements that are being forged have impacts on others not present.
    This often raises ethical questions. Urge parties making agreements that affect others to engage in some form of notification and consultation. In the case of a guidance to decision makers, the door is fully open for those not present to submit their own comments, recommendations, or public testimonies. In the case of a transactional agreement, it is usually wise to talk with those affected but not present.
  • There is a protracted period of haggling over small issues.
    If this goes on longer than expected, it can be a signal that some portions of Stages 3 and 4 need to be revisited. Recognizing that different organizations have different cultural styles of negotiation, long and laborious negotiations over small matters create a risk of major deal-breaking frustrations. If this happens, the facilitator can consider taking on the burden of drafting possible agreements. This may then slide into the final stage.

The Keystone Center Working Group on Endangered Species Act Habitat” illustrates the effort that went into bargaining over specific language (because the words themselves would potentially have legislative implications). In the end, the Working Group achieved some 50 items of agreement, many of which landed in the Farm Bill.

Related Examples

Related Tools/Resources

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