We experienced many challenges as a nation and continue to face new and mutating ones. There is nothing unusual about facing challenges.
The only problem is when a people do not develop the capacity to deal with challenges that are unique to them. As a nation, it has become apparent that, for us to move forward and gain traction, it is important to sharpen our ability to negotiate.
This is because our inherent differences and structures predispose us to conflict whether regional, political, social, economic, ethnic or industrial.
Our obviously differing interpretation of facts makes it crucial for us to endeavour to pursue an understanding of each others’ viewpoint with a realisation that coordination and synergy do not just happen, they require that parties put in effort and work.
Whether we are dealing with generational land issues, political rivalry, gender differences, industrial or trade disputes, it is important for parties to envision a win-win situation.
This can be realised when methods of reaching good agreements are achieved. A good agreement is one which is strategic and efficient, and which improves the parties’ relationship. These agreements satisfy the parties’ interests and are fair and lasting.
It is important that parties come up with solutions that are sustainable by understanding that solutions are meant to address problems, not people.
That is why it is imperative that when parties come to the negotiating table, their discussions and deliberations must be issue-based. This is the only way that they can have a clearer view of the problem at hand. Otherwise if they focus on people, ultimately someone will lose.
But if they focus on the problem, they will look for a solution that satisfies both parties’ interests. Both parties need to be involved in looking for the solution to the problem.
That’s the surest way to guarantee ownership and support of the outcome of the negotiation. It’s also important to understand that parties come to the negotiating table with own interests — if this were not the case they would not come.
These interests must, therefore, be taken into account. But parties must likewise be cognizant of the fact that underneath their personal interests, there are shared interests which should be explored and leveraged on for effective partnership and development priorities.
This is the only way they can see the need to be open to different proposals and positions leading to decisions based on reasonable standards, thus making it easier for the parties to agree and preserve a good relationship.
But in a system like ours, we cannot be blind to the fact that there exists differences in power in such kinds of processes, whether they are legal, political, economic, social or ethnic.
Negotiating parties are not equal partners of power and overcoming power differences can be such a challenge in the negotiation process.
The person with the upper hand can flex their muscle and block any attempt for meaningful progress or push the weaker party into a poor agreement or refuse to honour their side of the bargain.
If a scenario like this obtains, then the weaker party decides in advance to reject any kind of proposal below their bottomline, creating an impasse, as the stronger party also holds onto their bottomline. The process then takes longer because no one is negotiating.
The parties are just holding onto their positions. This is counter-productive because the reason people negotiate is to produce something better than the results they could obtain without negotiating. It is, therefore, vitally important for parties to not just have bottomlines but best alternatives.
This is the only way that they can make the most out of the existing resources, map strategies and tap into new opportunities and privileges.
Even though some of our struggles can be sensitive because they are rooted in years of injustice, mistrust and betrayal, we cannot lose sight of the fact that parties do have the ability to generate inventive options and comprehensive response frameworks, if they stay at the negotiating table and insist on objectivity rather than a battle of wills.
We must remember that the raison de’tre for negotiation is not to prove who is stronger, or who can hold up longer, but to produce something better than the result we obtain if we never negotiate. —The writer is a Communications Strategist and Lecturer at Kenyatta University —[email protected]