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The Art of Negotiation: What to learn from the Mercy Hospital strike

Experts say learning to make concessions is equally as important as pushing priorities when it comes to effective negotiation tactics.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Negotiations, by design, aren't always a smooth process - especially if two powerful parties are sitting opposite at the table. 

Catholic Health and CWA Union leaders have been negotiating at the bargaining table for two months now, and still, no agreement has been reached. 

Over the weekend, both parties say they were closer than ever to reaching common ground, but differences over staffing changed course early Sunday morning. 

Dr. Katerina Bezrukova is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management and spends her days teaching students about the art of negotiating. 

"You cannot get everything you want, it's impossible. So you need to learn how to make priorities and make concessions from both sides," Dr. Bezrukova says.

While Catholic Health stands by its current offer on the table, calling it "fair" with "competitive wages" and "progressive staffing language," CWA leaders disagree and say they aren't backing down from their 4:1 staffing ratio ask.

But as days go by, the big question is whether or not the tactics being used by either party are effective when it comes to creating a solution. 

"It's heading into what we call irrevocable commitments and intractable conflict," Bezrukova says. In essence, what this means is if tactics don't change course soon this strike could continue for a much longer period of time.


Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) is a negotiation tactic that, research shows, can be extremely useful and effective.

Dr. Bezrukova tells 2 On Your Side, "It's a very helpful strategy for students and people, in general, to think about their demands, their position, their interests, and the other party interests so they can see where those mutually beneficial solutions can emerge."

Protecting your interests is important, but building trust at the bargaining table is also important, which is where IBB can be helpful because it also allows for putting oneself in the other party's shoes. 

"Clarify your own interests, but part of this is thinking about what the other party interests should be," Bezrukova explains.

When done correctly, trust grows. Which is often times the opposite when contentious tactics are used.

Catholic Health's latest big move took place on Sunday when the hospital system announced it's pausing health benefits coverage for striking associates until a deal is reached. 

"It looks like this is a threat tactic, and typically it's used to elicit compliance, oftentimes not effectively," Bezrukova says. 

It's a tactic that falls in the negotiation category called "contentious tactics," which are used by most parties at some point during negotiations to get what they want. 

Bezrukova says it's important to remember, however, that big power plays aren't always helpful in the end. 

As for when that deal could be reached, both parties' hope is sometime this week. 

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