Negotiation: Essential Skill for Managing an Orthodox Parish or Organization


“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)


Apparently, according to the Prophet Isaiah in the quote above, God negotiates with us. Unfortunately for us, the only bargaining chip we have is to say "No" to God, which is self-defeating. It’s probably best to simply learn of His terms and capitulate completely and immediately. God wins but we are the even greater winners. It may temporarily feel like losing but that's not the end of the process. The immeasurable benefits of surrendering to God's position rapidly descend upon us and we relearn for the umpteenth time the benefits of aligning our will with His.

The process of negotiation is all pervasive in parish life. Why? Because parish life is a voluntary association of members and affiliated friends. The priest and lay leadership are forever negotiating for time, resources, talent and action from parishioners who are completely free to leave the parish, stop giving or retire from voluntary service at any point in time.

On the darker side, parish life inevitably involves conflicts, misunderstandings, disagreements, mixed priorities, hurt feelings, etc. Here, negotiation or conflict management skills are extraordinarily helpful in soothing ruffled feelings, recruiting a key volunteer, calming parish controversy or securing a critical majority vote in a general assembly.

Many small brush fires can be extinguished with a simple phone call, conversation over coffee, explanation or apology combined with a simple and humble readiness to forgive. Sometimes, when these actions do not suffice, additional measures may be required. Here, some may find it useful to investigate negotiation or conflict management methods developed in other areas of human endeavor.

The document below addresses just one phase of the negotiation process – the preparation and self-reflection phase that should occur prior to a negotiation. Ideally, at the conclusion of all negotiations both parties feel satisfied, pleased, settled, grateful and at peace. This is termed Win-Win negotiations. If either party feels that they "lost", simmering resentments is often the result.

Negotiation is actually a careful exploration of your position and the other person's position, with the goal of finding a mutually acceptable compromise with both parties feeling satisfied at the conclusion. People's positions are rarely as fundamentally opposed as they may initially appear – the other person may have very different goals from the ones you expect! The exercise below helps a person to discover their own thoughts, feelings, goals and objectives as well as making an honest effort to understand the other person's thoughts, feelings, goals and objectives, all the while searching for common ground.

In an ideal situation, you may find that you are prepared to provide to the other person what they want or need and that they are prepared to provide what you want or need. Ultimately, both sides should feel comfortable with the final solution if the agreement is to be considered win-win.


Using the worksheet below, think through the following points before you start negotiating:

Goals: What do you want to get out of the negotiation? What do you think the other person wants?

Trades: What do you and the other person have that you can trade? What do you each have that the other wants? What are you each comfortable giving away?

Alternatives: If you don't reach agreement with the other person, what alternatives do you have? Are these good or bad? How much does it matter if you do not reach agreement? Does failure to reach an agreement cut you off from future opportunities? And what alternatives might the other person have?

Relationships: What is the history of the relationship? Could or should this history impact the negotiation? Will there be any hidden issues that may influence the negotiation? How will you handle these?

Expected outcomes: What outcome will people be expecting from this negotiation? What has the outcome been in the past, and what precedents have been set?

The consequences: What are the consequences for you of winning or losing this negotiation? What are the consequences for the other person?

Power: Who has what power in the relationship? Who controls resources? Who stands to lose the most if agreement isn't reached? What power does the other person have to deliver what you hope for?

Possible solutions: Based on all of the considerations, what possible compromises might there be?

Finally, prior to meeting it is absolutely necessary to check one's spiritual disposition, especially feelings toward the other party. Logic and analysis are useful but far more useful is humility, acceptance, openness, patience, forgiveness and compassion.

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