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Industrial Relations Negotiations


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation Styles > Industrial Relations Negotiations

Confrontation and competition | Powerful brinksmanship | Mediation and arbitration | Modern consideration | See also


Negotiation in industrial situations are typified by trade union negotiations where a team from the trade union seeks to gain better pay and working conditions from a reluctant management.

Although many companies are more enlightened about such negotiations these days, the 'traditional' confrontational methods are illustrative of a particular style and still may be found in many other organizations.

Confrontation and competition

The typical industrial negotiation between trade unions and managers can be very confrontational and competitive in style.

Team negotiation

Both sides of the negotiation usually have multiple members on their teams. A team is typically led by a lead negotiator and supported by experts and people whose main job is to observe the other side and watch for body language and other subtle signals.

The presence of several people can create a sense of intimidation. This is exacerbated if they are physically large, look scary and use aggressive body language.

Robust style

The standard opener is with the trade union making demands that have been determined through many meetings and deliberations. They are usually very well prepared and have a clear concession strategy and walk-away alternative (that typically involves strike action or other punishment).

Managers also may respond in kind, flatly refusing any possibility of pay rises or reducing hours or maybe even requiring cuts in staff, pay or conditions to cope with downturns in business.

Powerful brinksmanship

The industrial negotiation are also characterized by overt use of power, threats and taking things to the edge (and over).

The power of the membership

The basic weapon of employees is refusal to work. The company could punish one person or allow them to resign. However, the fact that trade union are representing a large number of people gives them power, both in the mandate that they bring and in the potential consequences of failure to agree, for example in taking strike action or 'working to rule'.

Managers also have a strong mandate in their position and their more senior managers will likely have given them a clear directive about what they can and cannot offer. Their basic weapon is continued employment and provision of amenities on the requirement that employees do specified work.

Argument and breakdown

Rather than gentle bargaining, the approach is often to play the game right up to the wire, squeezing the maximum concessions out of the other side without a great deal of consideration for the relationship.

This typically includes abrasive argument and strong use of negative negotiation tactics. Negotiators may dramatically walk out of the room and play a waiting or posturing game. In larger organizations particularly, the press may be deliberately drawn into the game with each side pleading its case to the public at large while journalists seek interesting angles for their stories.

Mediation and arbitration

When relationships break down and trust has completely evaporated such that either or both sides refuse to negotiate further, the only chance of resolution comes from the use of third parties.

There is a dilemma in using third parties as, for such arrangements to work, both sides of the negotiation need to agree on who they will both trust. Independent organizations exist to carry out such services and these may need to be interviewed by either side before they are hired.


Mediators shuttle up and down between the two sides, impartially carrying messages and encouraging the warring parties to find some place of agreement. The mediator may also coach the negotiators, showing how their current position is unlikely to result in a desired resolution and that some movement is necessary.


If mediation does not work, then an arbitrator may be engaged. This person listens to both sides and then tells them what the solution will be. In order for this to work, both sides must first agree to be bound by whatever the arbitrator decides. Generally, the arbitrator will look at similar cases in other circumstances as well as the demands and constraints of both sides before making their final judgment.

Modern consideration

These days there are a number of more enlightened trade unions and also enlightened managers who at last realize that competition within the company is not good for business and not good for jobs.

The result is that a lot more collaborative negotiation can be found in the modern workplace, although competitive and combative approaches can still be found.

See also

Negotiation tactics

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