Negotiation Considerations, Part 3: Issue identification


After assessing what is known about the parties and the potential dynamics of a negotiation, it becomes key to identify the issue(s). Issue identification is very tricky and is often where negotiations fail before they even begin. This is because humans have inherent problems with biases. Nobody can be completely objective, ever. This is due to various forms of noise and cognitive bias. Subjectivity comes in the forms of values, beliefs, biases, and other types of dynamics such as anger, manipulation, and coercion. Distortions of ego and power also create smokescreens for effective issue identification.

To adequately work through the issue identification phase, all parties to a negotiation have to understand what they think is important to them as well as what is important to everyone else involved. Avoid assumptions at all costs! Clear and unambiguous communication in the form of restating what you think you’ve heard is the tipping point. Emotions can stop the human brain at lightening speed and turn otherwise rational people into screaming idiots. When things disintegrate to this level, it is nearly impossible to exercise good listening skills let alone good verbal communication skills. Fight or flight responses take over and our amygdala is once again hijacked.

Despite evolution, we are still hardwired to run from sabertooth tigers. Although there are no sabertooth tigers [that I know of] stalking the Earth today, humans remain inextricably programmed to flee or fight should one magically appear. The metaphor of the non-existent sabertooth tiger is important to understand such that we can get to the bottom of what is really going on. The question of “what’s the real issue here?” is more important than any other aspect of negotiation because it provides the framework for everything that follows.

I have outstanding issue identification skills, even in emotional situations. I don’t, however, always possess outstanding response skills. In fact, in my personal relationships I’d say that I pretty much suck at it. How can emotions override my knowledge and skills, leaving me frozen and sometimes defenseless? The answer is clear and unfortunate: I don’t trust my gut. I’m programmed from life experiences to disregard the warning signals that tell me I should run like hell or stand up for myself in a way that is productive and healthy. This is part of the effects of C-PTSD and it is damn near impossible to explain this to someone who has no experience with such things. Sure, there’s fear and anxiety in many situations in life, but to be willing to sacrifice oneself for seemingly irrational reasons (e.g., to keep the “peace” in an unhealthy way) is – well – just plain crazy!

The good news is that the brain can be rewired with practice. Research tells us it is a long and grueling process, but it can be accomplished. In emotional negotiation situations, the residual effects of C-PTSD show up again and again, leaving people feeling like they’ve been victimized by some invisible force that has compromised their abilities in very destructive ways.

Nonetheless, preparation for negotiation situations can provide strategic tools to become more effective in dealing with a root cause associated with things like C-PTSD. The pathway to success involves organized thought, structured appropriate responses, and practice. Awareness of bad habits and destructive patterns is painful but necessary. Clearing away the previously unexplainable obstacles to issue identification will provide clarity and understanding. Once we understand, we can be more effective in accurately identifying what is really at issue in the matter. Taking care not to project upon someone else what we feel the issue is becomes the target. Restating what one thinks they have heard is a baseline skill which requires control of emotional responses to facilitate good communication.

As to the issues in my case, H is worried about the following:

  • abandonment
  • loneliness
  • rejection
  • loss of identity and purpose
  • feelings of emptiness
  • negative effects upon the kids
  • inability to cope

The issue at hand is not really whether I live here or at my apartment. The underlying issues are what he feels he needs and wants. The reality is that he will have to deal with most of the items on his own as they relate to his perceptions and feelings. Another part of that reality is that I will have my own items to deal with and nobody can do it for me. I’m probably in a better situation to do this since I have been emotionally disengaged for quite awhile. This doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means that detachment and dissociation have been my drugs of choice for a long time. On the healthier side, I’ve seen the root causes of our problems for many years and H is still getting used to the idea that there’s any kind of problem to begin with. Further, H has to figure out what parts of the problem he owns, just as I have to.

What the issues aren’t:

  • money
  • security in employment
  • safety
  • meeting the basic needs of all concerned
  • substance addiction
  • physical health
  • love for each other and for our children

When I look at the second list, I recognize there are things I can do to provide H with more information which he can use (if he chooses) to alter his perceptions and therefore his feelings. The challenge I am facing right now is that I need a “time out” to regroup because of emotional fatigue. H does not want to accept that for what I consider to be selfish (but maybe not unjustifiable) reasons, so my next step is to identify my options.

Part 4 is all about the process of identifying options.


One thought on “Negotiation Considerations, Part 3: Issue identification

  1. Pingback: Negotiation Considerations, Part 2: Knowing | Dharma Goddess: The Journey to Me

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