Get Past No in Negotiations & Disputes


Bass Rock from North Berwick

As experienced mediators and workplace relations specialists, we’re no strangers to the importance of taking a step back to gain a moment of objectivity. Strathesk Founder, Malcolm Currie, explains how change in perspective and distance can be the difference between the unwillingness to compromise and gaining the objectivity and understanding needed to move forward.

A recent cycling trip gave me the chance to see things from a different perspective and distance. It brought home just how important this can be in resolving disputes. Read on to find out how a trip to Fife gave me a whole new perspective on my home town. And how ‘going to the balcony’ can help you get past no in negotiations and disputes.

A Change of Perspective

East Lothian, my home for the last 25 years, is a district with a unique beauty that sweeps towards the magnificent City of Edinburgh. Its abundant gorgeous green countryside, busy hedgerows, miles of wide sandy beaches and a range of bonny wee towns strung out along the coast, give much to appreciate and enjoy.

As a keen cyclist, I regularly journey out to experience the wonderful views available to me in this pretty region. By this means, I’ve been to almost every corner, experiencing much that gets missed when travelling by car. From the seat of a bike, you can fully immerse yourself in the landscape. You experience your surroundings with a full spectrum of sensations. The flow of air and (hopefully) the warmth of the sun on your skin. Along with the scents of the fields and hedgerows.

As a former conservationist in Strathspey, these long immersive cycle rides are the closest thing I’ve found to that mind-freeing space I used to experience in the expansive Cairngorms landscape. Space to think and reflect. Space that is so important, but that busy city-based lives rarely allow. Unless we take the time to go and find it.

Exploring Pastures New

A few weeks ago, I felt the urge to strike out and travel further afield to explore pastures (and coastline!) new. And so I hoisted my bicycle onto the train. I made my way across the Firth of Forth to the “Kingdom of Fife”, alighting at Leuchars. Then I set out for a day of cycling that promised plenty of wonderful new views. As it happened, the view that made perhaps the strongest impression was the one back across the water towards East Lothian.

After a pleasant cycle round the East Neuk coast, I stopped off in the picturesque fishing village of Anstruther. From there, I looked towards a familiar place. I saw my home across the sea from an entirely new angle and distance – about 11 miles as the crow flies. From such a distance, how different it appeared!  

Bass Rock from Anstruther

All the finer detail I was used to was blurred out. The broad view allowed me to appreciate the wider context of the coastline on which my home sits. I’d given myself the time and space to see something so familiar in a completely new light. The great hulk of the Bass Rock, solid and imposing up close, took on a different aspect from a distance.

It was a gentle reminder that aspects of conflict can loom so large when they are at the forefront of our minds. Perhaps they too can look very different when we step back. Perhaps it’s a way to get past no in negotiations and disputes.

How to Get Past No in Negotiations & Disputes

In his 1991 book Getting Past No, William Ury explains that in conflict situations, people either typically “strike back, give in, or break off the relationship”. And, as he explains, these are counterproductive responses. His recommendation when you want to get past no in negotiations and disputes? Going to the balcony:

“When you find yourself facing a difficult negotiation, you need to step back, collect your wits, and see the situation objectively. Imagine you are negotiating on a stage and then imagine yourself climbing onto a balcony overlooking the stage. The ‘balcony’ is a metaphor for a mental attitude of detachment. From the balcony you can calmly evaluate the conflict, almost as if you were a third party. You can think constructively for both sides and look for a mutually satisfactory way to resolve the problem.”


An Alternative View?

East Lothian

The sunset picture above, taken on the beach near my home, is admittedly far more beautiful than the uglier aspects of conflict with which I’m familiar as a workplace resolution specialist. But it nevertheless helps to further illustrate this important point. Things can look strikingly different depending on our perspective. And there’s always something to be gained from looking at things from a slightly different angle and greater distance, if only for a moment. 

Like the parable of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant’s body, each describing a completely different animal:

“…humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true”.

Taken from Wikipedia

Stepping back

Indeed, it’s true that in conflict scenarios the closeness we have to our own point of view can cloud our thinking. It can keep us stuck, going round in circles, rather than moving towards resolution. But pausing, moving further away mentally and getting some distance can help us to think calmly and gain clarity.

If I were to stay close to my home, only ever looking at my surroundings from the same perspective, I’ll miss something. I’ll miss the unique viewpoint I can only get from making the effort to take that train and bike ride. Then I can look back and see things differently. In a conflict scenario “moving to the balcony” takes mental control and effort but the rewards can be immense. It can be the difference between sticking firm, unwilling to compromise, and gaining the objectivity and understanding needed to move forward.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment. And if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly, please contact us or give me a call on 07736068787.

Want to get past no in negotiations and disputes? Strathesk Re:solutions specialises in helping employers take a preventative approach to workplace conflict and employment-related disputes. Talk to us about how we can help your organisation create the framework for healthy workplace relations.



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