Addressing Revenge in Negotiations

Most people understand each other’s positions and often the interests of each other. The hang up can instead relate to other issues such as personalities, values, history and other elements not directly related to the conflict. In these types of conflicts, the desire for revenge, getting even and even hurting the other person can be stronger than the desire to resolve the issue. There are three things to consider in these types of negotiations. These are considering interests and values separately, engaging with each other to build a positive relationship and working to reconcile differences.

Think about this as an attorney with your clients. In a messy divorce think about one spouse wanting to really stick it to the other spouse. Think about this with a client that is so angry about the dispute with the other party they simply can’t think straight. All you have to do is bring up the other party and they can go on for several minutes about what a bad person(s) the other party is. That person cannot be trusted, they are evil, they are the devil incarnate. So what should you do to help the situation and your client.

Consider Interests and Values Separately

This can be hard, but every effort should be made to separate the person from the problem. The focus should be to be tough on the problem and gentle on the people. Some people are so angry it is very hard for them to do this. By focusing on building connecting relationships and actively listening to demonstrate true concern, empathy and understanding, it may be possible to make this happen. Once the relationship has been established focus on each individual issue one at a time. This may take a representative of each party who is truly there to promote understanding (not revenge). This is not an advocate, but a mediator to help the parties listen to each other.

Engage Each Other to Build Positive Relationships

When two individuals are negatively impacted towards each other, it can be very hard for either of them to build a positive relationship with each other. Often a third-party building trust with both or with each of the parties can help. You as an attorney addressing collaboration with another attorney or acting as a mediator may be that person. Having a trusted person working with them may be necessary. This trusted person should be there to help them build positive relationships so that emotional interests can be addressed. Having a common interest can go a long way towards building understanding. Emphasis should be on building bridges for common understanding. Focusing on common values rather than trying to change anyone’s beliefs is critical. By working with each other on common interests it may be possible to break down what seem to be insurmountable barriers.

The pain associated with what caused the underlying conflict needs to be addressed. However, given empathy, listening and understanding it may be possible to build trust. A third party can either promote understanding or fuel the fire towards revenge. Be careful on reaching out to other parties to help with the situation. Those promoting understanding can save emotional and physical toil, money and time. Those fueling the fires for revenge can promote anger and frustration actually increasing emotional and physical toil and taking up valuable resources such as money, time and emotional wellbeing.

Working to Reconcile Differences

Where there are differences it is important to spell them out and why there are these differences. When two parties are very angry with each other often they cannot see the other person’s perspective. Sometimes they can. Knowing this one party may simply want to be vindictive. An issue like this needs to be pointed out and addressed. When the issue is addressed head on it may be possible to create an opportunity where none could have been seen beforehand. This can lead to further understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. Unless this approach is tried, how else is it possible to know if it may work?

Does this Always Work?

No, this doesn’t always work, but at a minimum it can foster additional understanding. As each of the parties clarifies positions, interests and values, it may be possible to address issues in the future if not now. This can take a very long time. Look at South Africa and Ireland from a global perspective. In both of these instances, each party had to overcome long held beliefs and stereotypes. This was necessary to move on to reconciliation. Both sides experienced real pain. By being empathetic and working with each other to understand interests they were able to overcome real differences. It is messy. It is not easy. Perseverance, patience and understanding are key ingredients. One of the critical steps is helping the parties to listen to one another.

What About Mediation?

Mediation is not about coming to a solution everyone likes. Rather it is all about developing a solution that the parties can live with. This is a mental shift away from winning and losing. We are hard wired to think of the world as black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. It takes a real strength of character to move off of this position. Our reptilian brain prefers this approach. However, our pre-frontal cortex can override our amygdala in our reptilian brain. This allows us to consider a broader perspective. Taking a broader perspective can lead to forgiveness and reconciliation. When this happens, it can be beneficial to both parties.

On a local level, with neighborhood disputes, public housing issues, landlord tenant issues racially charged police shootings and similar issues the emotions are just as strong. Having volunteered in these areas and professionally addressed issues with the taxing authorities, business to business and within businesses, patience, building trust with the parties and listening are key. Pausing to paraphrase, summarise, and empathise are needed. Asking open ended questions of the parties so that they too can look at the issue more broadly helps. In the end it is up to the parties. It is their decision whether they want to work together to reconcile differences. It behooves everyone involved to promote understanding even in very difficult situations. Attorneys with this focus are really looking out for their client’s best interests.

Consider those with whom you have had real differences of opinion and those that you know that have real differences of opinion with others. Perhaps the ideas presented here can help you or could help them. Feel free to pass this on.

To read more on this topic explore this article ( from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation that was the inspiration for writing this blog.  

Editorial note: A version of this piece was published by Michael Gregory Consulting LLC (

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay.


Qualified Mediator, Minnesota Supreme Court

Mike is a professional speaker, negotiator and mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at USA 1 (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful.

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