Strike action – 5 tips for breaking negotiation deadlock

“Zuma intervenes in public sector strike in its third week.”

President Jacob Zuma intervened in the 13-day public sector strike in the early hours of Monday morning, instructing ministers to immediately return to the negotiating table.

“He appealed to both sides to put the interests of the country first. That would mean give and take from both sides in negotiations,” said Zizi Kodwa, the president’s spokesperson. He did not give details of concessions Zuma expected the government to make.

Both sides must continue trying to reach their set goals, but must also reach accommodation. Both sides must understand that resolution is both possible and desirable.

Best practice in breaking a deadlock in negotiations is focused on opening-up the dialogue using open-ended questions.

Negotiation Training Institute of America advises five ways to get both sides talking:

• Ask open-ended questions. This means you should ask questions that cannot be answered in one or two words, especially “yes” or “no.” Continuing with this means that they will give short answers even when they could answer fully. Remember, they will not openly, honestly, tell you what they want to get out of the negotiation.

• Listen intently to the answers you receive. Ask yourself whether the answers you get are to be fully trusted. For you to be truly involved in the negotiation you must know what the counter-party seeks. Open-ended questions allow you to learn more.

• Clarify. Listen and repeat what your counter-party says to verify what is intended so you can learn whether this is really their goal. Ask the counter-party to expand his or her answers.

• Tailor your questions to fit the answers you get and to move the discussions out in the open. The information you get will give you the power to determine where there is any agreement possible.

• Steer questions toward the area favouring your positions. When you share your information with your counter-party it will encourage openness and will allow additional information to come forth.

Although it is difficult to measure the monetary cost of the strike, productivity in the public sector has been lost since the processing of government paperwork is moving very slowly. Business Day reported this week that the cost of the strike could be about R1-billion a day.

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