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Integrative Negotiation with a Difficult Employee

It is common to find difficult employees in the workplace. But most of the time their presence is only known to their co-workers and not to the employer. When the attitude of the said employee is brought to the attention of the employer two things can happen. The employer can castigate the employee or strike a deal with him or her so that there will be no losers only winners. An integrative negotiation approach can be used so that both parties can benefit from the situation. If the employer decides to fire the employee, the said worker can retaliate by suing the company. At this point, the integrative negotiation approach can be used to resolve the conflict with very minimal cost to both parties.

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Integrative Negotiation

Management experts agree that there are two major strategies when it comes to negotiating and resolving conflicts. The first one is called integrative negotiation and the second one is called distributive negotiation. Walton and McKersie can be credited with the creation of the term integrative negotiation in the 1960s (Grunig & Huang, 2000). This type of negotiation is typically referred to as “win/win” negotiations where everyone will walk away confident that they won something in the recently concluded deal (La Piana Associates, Inc., 2008). According to one commentator, both parties look for common ground and instead of looking at slicing the pie, they would work together to make it appear bigger.

A distributive negotiation approach on the other hand focuses on efforts to maximize gains and minimize losses (Grunig & Huang, 2000). In this view, the winner will take a major slice of the pie while the losers will have to be content with a significantly smaller piece. The only problem is that this type of negotiation is that it will create more competition and more enemies and will prevent the establishment of long-lasting business relationships. Thus, the winner will be able to savor victory for a while but in the long run, intense competition, as well as conflicts with others groups, will render the victory and the earnings insignificant.

Dealing with a Difficult Employee

In the case of the difficult employee an employer will be forced to the negotiating table if one of the following conditions applies: 1) a task needs to be completed and neither party could do that on his or her own; and/ or 2) there is a problem or conflict that requires a resolution (Lewicki, et al., 2001). In the case of the difficult employee, the employer will be forced to hammer out a deal because although the employee created problems in the workplace the employer is also well aware that he could never run a business without help from the said employee.

Yet if the employer decided to fire the difficult employee, his human resource problem can escalate into something unexpected. The disgruntled employee can sue the company. If integrative negotiation was not used in the past it is time to use it at this juncture where a protracted legal battle can be very costly for both parties. Using the integrative negotiation approach will prompt both parties to seek a settlement rather than go to court. According to experts, it is better to structure a negotiation that will demonstrate that there is a mutual attempt to solve a problem (Steingold, 2008). The cost will be much lower than if both parties will allow the issue to escalate.

If the employer is wise enough not to fire the difficult employee in the first place then what he can do is to determine the reason why the employee is making life more difficult in the office. The employer will set up a meeting with the said employee and attempt to find out a solution to the problem. The employee must feel that the employer is doing everything he can to improve the performance of the employee and he is not doing anything that will jeopardize his position in the company.

There will be open communication between the two parties. The employee will come to understand how the company views his performance. But instead of just simply telling the employee what must be done to improve overall performance, the employer or management team tasked to handle integrative negotiation with the employee will ask inputs, comments, and suggestions that will lead to the creation of a solution that will benefit both parties.

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In one case study, the employer gets to ask Tom the employee about his perception regarding his job responsibilities in the company (Bacal, 2004). The one conducting the interview will reassure Tom, that since he is more knowledgeable about a specific job responsibility then it is fair that his comments and insights will be valued and used later on to create a win/win solution to the problems faced by the organization. In this way, Tom will see the sincerity of the management team to involve him in the decision-making process.

When Tom completes the evaluation process and after the management team finishes up the review of all the comments and suggestions, the negotiation process goes to the next level which is to planning and determining the necessary steps needed by either or both parties. At this point, Tom already is assured that the company is not going to use him as a scapegoat for past failures. He is also assured that the company is genuinely interested in helping him perform much better in the coming year. Thus, Tom will be more than willing to help in the planning process. Since his inputs were considered and incorporated into the overall strategy then Tom will be more than willing to help the organization in realizing all its goals for the coming years.


An integrative negotiation approach is a much better strategy when it comes to resolving conflict. In the case of Tom who was deemed as a difficult employee the management team handling his case was wise enough not to fire him or to castigate him due to his dismal performance. The employer did not use his position to punish Tom and to force him to change by threatening to fire him. If the employer decided to fire Tom then he may be in for a surprise if Tom decided to sue the company.

As mentioned earlier if the conflict was not resolved in the early stages and when it comes to a point where litigation is unavoidable it is better to use integrative negotiation to prevent the case from going to court. It is in the interest of both parties to settle outside the court. The cost of a protracted legal battle will not benefit anyone. Tom will be fighting a corporation with deep pockets while he had to endure the process minus a job. If he finds a job before litigation begins then he will be distracted and unable to give his best to his new employer.

Even if the company has money to spare it is still no laughing matter to pay their high-priced attorneys and to waste their valuable time in court. It is much better to resolve the conflict much earlier when Tom’s problems were still manageable. The best way to do it is to conduct a performance evaluation where Tom is allowed to voice out his frustrations and his perception as to why he is not performing well and why he is prone to make life more difficult for his co-workers. In this way, management will be more aware of what exactly is going on in the workplace.

When Tom is assured that the company is more than willing to help him then he will be encouraged to provide meaningful inputs that can help the management team create strategies that will improve the overall performance of the company. Since Tom was involved in the planning phase, he will be very enthusiastic to help the company realize its goals for the coming years. Instead of losing an employee, the company gained a new ally. This is the reason why integrative negotiation is much better than distributive negotiation strategies. Long-lasting business relationships are formed that will increase the profitability of the company.


  1. Bacal, R. (2004). Manager’s Guide to Performance Reviews. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Grunig, J. &Y. Huang. (2000). From Organizational Effectiveness to Relationship Indicators:
  3. Antecedents of Relationships, Public Relations Strategies, and Relationship Outcomes. In J.A. Ledingham & S.D. Bruning (Eds.), Public Relations as Relationship Management: A Relationship Approach to the Study and Practice of Public Relations (p. 23-54). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  4. La Piana Associates, Inc. (2008). “The Negotiation Process: The Difference Between Integrative and Distributive Negotiation.”
  5. Lewicki, R. et al. (2001). Essentials of Negotiation. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. Steingold, F. (2008). Legal Guide for Starting and Running a Small Business. 10th ed. CA: Nolo Publishing.

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