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Negotiation skills often assist editors in delicate situations.
The cooperative process and compromise
Negotiation is a cooperative process whereby participants try to find a solution which meets the legitimate interests of both parties, which in the context of Wikipedia usually involves appropriate mention of all points of view in an article thus improving the quality of the article.
"Splitting the difference" compromise, while often well-intended, is inappropriate. (See our article on argument to moderation, though philosophers more often call it the "middle ground fallacy".) One of the most serious problems with a demand for compromise is that it motivates each party to stake out their most extreme position. In the context of Wikipedia, compromise is especially inappropriate if it means departure from a neutral and appropriately balanced point of view. For some amusing but instructive examples of the pitfalls of this approach, see here.
This should not stop participants from finding compromises that provide a balanced presentation that adheres to Wikipedia's principles. Compromising in the context of editing can mean a few different things.
- Article topic compromise
If the dispute is over a specific controversial issue which is a topic of the entry, compromise often means inclusion of some of the material which each side has proposed. Doing so will mean that both sides of a debate or issue will receive some coverage.
This will ultimately make an entry more balanced and comprehensive provided the result adheres to Wikipedia's content policies such as verifiability and giving appropriate weight to majority and minority views.
- Article format and editing compromise
If the dispute is over a specific point of editing the entry itself; in other words, the controversy is not focused on any issue described by the entry, but rather relates to the form, phrasing, structure or any aspect of the editing process itself, then compromise often means finding some editing technique which can incorporate both of the proposed styles or techniques.
There are a few possible methods for this. One possibility is to provide a few subsections for the disputed section, in order to incorporate both ideas or proposals.
The basics of negotiation are:
- Purpose: Without aim, negotiation will lead to wastage of resource, money and time.
- Plan: It is necessary to make a plan before going for actual negotiation. Without planning,negotiation will fail.
- Pace: Negotiator try to achieve agreements on points of the negotiations before their concentration reduces.
- Personalities: Two interested people sit together to arrive at an agreement
Try to find objective criteria
Instead of simplistic compromise, try to work for principled agreement. The goal of Wikipedia, presumably shared by all sides to any dispute, is to produce a useful and reliable reference work. Objective criteria such as accuracy, reliability, and appropriate representation of all significant points of view should be used as participants in a dispute work toward solutions.
One such negotiation tactic used in the 1970's included bringing a small farm animal such as a pig to a meeting. This was done to divert attention from the actual meeting thus allowing the negotiator to take the upper hand in the conversation.
References and further reading
- William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in, Revised 2nd edition, Penguin USA, 1991, trade paperback, ISBN 0140157352; Houghton Mifflin, April, 1992, hardcover, 200 pages, ISBN 0395631246. The first edition, unrevised, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, hardcover, ISBN 0395317576
- William Ury, Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation, revised second edition, Bantam, January 1, 1993, trade paperback, ISBN 0553371312; 1st edition under the title, Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People, Bantam, September, 1991, hardcover, 161 pages, ISBN 0553072749
- Gerard I. Nierenberg, The Art of Negotiating: Psychological Strategies for Gaining Advantageous Bargains, Barnes and Noble, (1995), hardcover, 195 pages, ISBN 156619816X