Posts Tagged ‘negotiation’

Bargaining & Dispute Resolution

Recently, at the Manchester Business School we introduced bargaining as a solutions methodology for use in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It was the central theme of Day 2 of a three day residential Workshop on the broad theme of ethics and responsibility in business (ERB) a new elective available to all MBAs. The material from Day 2 and the case work reviewed during the Workshop have now being assembled into a Masterclass offering. If you are interested in finding out more about the bargaining process and how it could be adapted for your particular needs then please do contact us on this webpage.

The Conversation

The parties to the dispute need to have ‘a conversation’ so they meet with the arbiter in a neutral location. The approach focuses on an inherent ethic of responsibility as the centre piece of any conversation or dialogue between the conflicting parties. Throughout the conversation the arbiter by observing the parties extracts a latent code of ethics and begins to influence the parties’ belief systems. The approach complements the structural analysis of negotiation recognising the bargaining power of both parties.

Negotiating, however, is a party-specific power-centric approach whereas bargaining is more subtle – it has a power base that rests with the arbiter’s influence over the belief systems’ of the conflicting parties. The premise on which the bargaining approach is built is simple:  that the parties can reach a better outcome – called a bargain – by contracting or bargaining. The methodology is expressed in terms of converging towards a resolution – called a payoff or a bargaining set – in which neither party to the dispute is worse-off.

patrick mcnuttChina2015

Taking Responsibility

The pedagogy is grounded in a Kantian ethic of responsibility – this allows the parties and the arbiter to transform the priorities into a value set of duties so that the dispute can be ascribed by the arbiter to the lack of commitment to one’s duty. Our integrative analysis divides the methodology into ‘off-contract’ or dispute and contract or resolution stages, wherein each stage represents a sub-game. In the off-contract sub-game each party will learn the priorities of the other party and observe a trade-off pattern of conflicting priorities. For example, workers may have a right to a living wage or a minimum wage in many jurisdictions but it is the duty of the employer to pay it. However it is the duty of the employer to pay the wage and by not fulfilling duty, the wage is not paid and an off-contract dispute occurs.

The objective of the conversation is to move the parties to a contract point. Starting from an off-contract point a bargaining set is established which is equivalent to an ADR agreed resolution of a dispute. In theory the set is obtained by moving the parties on to an Edgeworth contract curve. In practice the bargaining process is sequential; it follows a stage-by-stage process moving the parties forward from initial consultation at time period t to final agreement at time period t+1.

Bargaining builds on the conversation. We applied the approach in 2010 to enable senior partners at a leading UK law firm come to an agreement on office relocation and new areas of specialism. Earlier the approach was adopted by the Board of Directors of a payments system company to reach an agreement on allocation of shared capital costs in the roll-out of new payments technology. Like the opening move in chess the off-contract steps follows a sequence:  Step 1: meet with the parties to extract the material facts. Step 2: elicit the duties expected of each party by the other. Step 3: identify the lack of commitment, the off-contract point, around which this dispute occurs. Step 4: assess both the threat values and the opportunity sets available to each party within the contours and parameters of the bargain. Step 5: define the trade-off function in terms of threats v opportunities for each party to the dispute.

The contracting steps have to be choreographed by the arbiter. Central to the bargaining is the payoff-constant trade-off. This is Step 6. It is a critical step. A good example is provided by Caffé Nero’s response to the recent increase in the living wage to £7.20 per hour. They offer to pay the increase but suspend the staff’s entitlement to free lunches At Step 6 the payoff-constant Pareto move for each party is assessed. Step 7: introduces the bargaining set in terms of justifying the payoff-constant move from each party. Step 8: initiates the bargaining process by moving the parties towards an agreed contract position, a unique position, so that no-one party is worse-off post-agreement but one party is better off.

Playing Not to Lose                 

This facilitates bargaining as an inclusive process with a positive focus and an emphasis by all parties on playing not to lose. For example, when Kraft HQ in 20105 signalled a decision on factory closures and job losses at the Dublin plant and at their plant in Bourneville, outside Birmingham, the workers responded by improving productivity to ensure the long term viability of the plants. A deal was agreed. The trades union Unite commented it was a good deal for the remaining workers Once the parties realise that neither party can do better unilaterally than the arbiter’s bargain they have reached a resolution. The arbiter’s bargain is the best they can do given the reaction of the other party. Quintessentially it is a Nash bargaining outcome obtained by the good offices of an arbiter skilled in the reasoning tools of non-cooperative game theory.

Key Take-Away

Participants are introduced to a range of bargaining tools as a form of reasoning that has its roots in non-cooperative game theory. The tools are an aid to reasoning during the conversation as the conflicting parties move towards a dispute resolution or bargain. Duration is a one day attendance at a residential Masterclass. Participants will be introduced to a set of invaluable tools in finding a resolution to a dispute viz. opportunity costs, value net, bargain, payoff-equivalence, Nash equilibrium, indifference trade-off, belief system and payoff-constant Pareto improvement.