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close this bookDesigning Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe lecture
View the documentVisual aids
View the documentQuestion and answer
View the documentDiscussion
View the documentDemonstration
View the documentSimulation
View the documentThe case method
View the documentCritical incidents
View the documentRole-playing
View the documentInstrumentation
View the documentBrainstorming
View the documentNominal group technique (NGT)
View the documentForce field analysis
View the documentAction planning
View the documentOther learning transfer strategies
View the documentPerformance analysis & needs assessment
View the documentTraining impact evaluation
View the documentTraining the staff to train
View the documentCoaching
View the documentTeam development
View the documentRole negotiation
View the documentIntergroup conflict intervention
View the documentOrganizational goal setting
View the documentA closing note

Role negotiation

Learning Emphasis

Organization Focus

There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement is only a compromise drawn upon many individual thoughts.

- Ayn Rand, novelist

When people begin to build new work relationships, the first thing they do is exchange information about their various roles. This is necessary so that each knows what to expect of the other. Once enough information is exchanged, uncertainty about performance disappears and what each person will do becomes more or less predictable. The strength of their relationship depends on how important each is to the other and how sure each can be that the other can and will do what he or she says. What each believes about the other in relation to their performance in a particular role is called role expectation. A trapeze artist, for example, who lets go of the bar at 50 metres without a safety net must have relatively high expectations about a partner’s role performance on the swing.

From time to time, there is a violation of expectations - that is, one of the parties to a relationship does not perform in the role as expected. Such disruptions are inevitable. They can be caused by changes imposed from outside the relationship that affect the way the role is performed - a new person is employed, new tasks are assigned, budgets are cut or the work unit is reorganized. Disruption also can be the result of internal changes in either or both of the parties to a relationship - training, new work experiences or personal problems. The disruption can be minor and temporary such as when someone misses a luncheon appointment; or they can be major and permanent such as when the trapeze artist lets go of the bar only to find the partner is a second late in leaving the platform.

An amusing story about four characters points up some common problems with performance owing to role confusion. The four characters in the story are named: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

When a disruption or change in expectations takes place, it can be dealt with in one of several ways. It can be ignored, an action likely to lead to heightened anxiety, hostility and possible conflict. It also can be handled by actions intended to return things to the way they used to be with promises like “I’m sorry; it wont happen again” or “Don’t worry; everything is all right now.” Although quick and sure, nothing really changes. In other words, this approach is a guarantee that the same problem will arise soon again in the future. Finally, the disruption can be treated in a problem-solving way by sharing any new information about the role disruption and renegotiating expectations. This approach has the advantages of bringing role expectations in line with the way things really are and stabilizing the relationship.


A well-known and effective method for clarifying and changing expectations about the roles and relationships of individuals, teams and other work groups is called the role negotiation technique (Harrison, 1972). With the help of a trainer/facilitator, individuals in a work relationship or members of a team or work group make lists simultaneously of their role expectations for each other, each focusing on what they feel the other(s) can or should be doing, not doing or doing better than they are doing it. These lists are exchanged, discussed and individuals or team members negotiate with each other (I will, if you will....) until there is agreement on changes in role performance on both sides. A master list of agreements is later distributed to all those taking part in the negotiation. The trainer/facilitator:

1. Explains the process,
2. Establishes the ground rules,
3. Makes lists of expectations and agreements on newsprint,
4. Fairly and impartially guides the give-and-take process,
5. Keeps participants talking, listening, and working toward an agreement, and
6. Follows up later, if possible, to be sure agreements made are being kept.

A design for conducting a meeting using the role negotiation technique is presented at the end of this section.


The successful performance of organization work requires integration and coordination of people in the performance of their assigned roles. But, people are not machines. What people expect and what they get in role performance may not be the same. Role negotiation is a technique for bringing the role performance of team or other group members into line with the expectations of their peers, subordinates or superiors. The use of a trained facilitator can help to bring group process experience and objectivity into the interaction.


Harrison, Roger, “Role negotiation: a tough minded approach to team development,” The Social Technology of Organization Development, W. Warner Burke and Harvey A. Hornstein, eds. (Fairfax, VA: NTL Learning Resources Corp., 1972).

A Role Negotiation Workshop Design


People in an organization who work together in a department, team or other work unit are appropriate candidates for role negotiation.


Participants who complete a role negotiation workshop will:

1. Know the role expectations of one another,
2. Agree on role-related behaviours that are to be changed, and
3. Have a plan for following-through on their agreements.

Time required:

From a half to a full day (three to six hours).


Role negotiation is usually done with the aid of a trained facilitator from outside the organization and is carried out in four steps as follows.

Step 1: Establishing ground rules

The facilitator begins by covering some ground rules with participants. First, it is important to point out that participants must be specific in saying what they want when negotiating with one another for changes in role behaviour. Secondly, any demand or expectation made by one party on another is adequately communicated only after it is written down and understood completely by both parties. Thirdly, there must be a quid pro quo; that is, participants making demands for others to change their behaviour must be willing to act on a demand for a change in their own behaviour. Fourthly, threats and punishment are almost certain to lead to a breakdown in negotiations even though they cannot be prevented.

Step 2: Diagnosis

Participants are invited to take a few minutes to think about the quality of work group or team relationships in work performance. This is the diagnosis phase of the process. Participants are asked to consider answers to questions like: What things would I change if I could? What things would I like to keep the way they are? Who and what would have to change to improve things? The facilitator might ask participants to focus especially on things that would help to improve their own effectiveness. After about 20 minutes, participants are asked to complete an Issue Diagnosis Form (see Exhibit 1) for each of the other participants. The form is for listing those things they would like to see each of the other persons (a) do more or do better, (b) do less or stop doing, or (c) keep on doing without change.

When complete, the lists are exchanged so that each participant has the lists prepared by other members that pertain to his or her work behaviour. Each participant then prepares a master list on newsprint sheets showing, in summary form, what other participants want him or her to do more of, do less of, or keep doing unchanged (see Exhibit 2). The various master lists are then posted on a wall for review by participants. After everyone has reviewed the lists, each participant is given a chance to question others who have sent messages about his or her behaviour. They are told by the facilitator to ask what, why and how for clarification but not to argue or express personal opinions about the messages.

Step 3: Negotiation

After each participant has received and affirms an understanding of the messages directed to him or her, the facilitator introduces the negotiation phase of the process. It is a good idea at this point to remind participants again about the importance of a quid pro quo; to stress that, without a willingness to give up something in exchange for getting something, no lasting behavioural change should be expected.

Then, each participant is asked to do two things: (1) select one or more issues on which he or she would particularly like to see change on the part of another participant, and (2) select one or more issues on which he or she feels most comfortable moving in the direction desired by someone else in the team work group. These choices are made public by marking the items on his or her own newsprint sheets and on those of other participants concerned.

Participants, with the facilitator’s help, review the newsprint lists to select the most negotiable issues. These would be the ones where there is a combination of high desire for change by the requester and a willingness to negotiate by the person who is being asked for a change in behaviour. The negotiation process consists of each participant making a contingent offer to another participant, using words like: If you do this, I will do that.

The negotiation continues until each participant is satisfied they will get a fair and reasonable return for anything they are willing to give up. The facilitator asks each of the participants involved in the negotiation to write down exactly what each of the parties is going to give and get back from the bargain (see Exhibit 3). The facilitator also asks participants to discuss openly what sanctions can be applied in the event one or another of the parties does not follow through on a bargain.

Several negotiations of this kind may go on at the same time. The facilitator tells participants that he or she is available to help any party to a negotiation. All agreements are made public (known to the entire team). Should agreements prove difficult, the facilitator and other participants will make an effort to find incentives to encourage agreement.

Step 4: Follow-up

After agreements have been made, the facilitator suggests scheduling a follow-up or review session. This session would be used to renegotiate agreements which have not been kept and, possibly, to continue with the role negotiation process by dealing with other issues. In time, the work group may develop enough control over the risks, avoidances and threats of the negotiation process to have no further need of the facilitator’s guidance and encouragement.

Exhibit 1

Issue Diagnosis Form

Messages from ___________________ To _______________________

1. If you were to do the following things more or better, it would help me to increase my own effectiveness.


2. If you were to do the following things less, or were to stop doing them, it would help me to increase my own effectiveness.


3. The following things which you have been doing help to increase my effectiveness, and I hope you will continue to do them.


Exhibit 2

Summary of Messages to:

your name

What the others want me to do more or better...

What the others want me to do less of or stop doing...

What the others want me to continue doing...

Exhibit 3

Final Written Agreement Between




Party No. 1

Party No. 2

We, party no. 1 and party no. 2, mutually agree to accept and work toward the changes in role performance stated below:

Party No. 1 agrees to...

1. ____________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________
3. ____________________________________________________________

Party No. 2 agrees to...

1. ____________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________
3. ____________________________________________________________

Parties Nos. 1 & 2 together will take the following actions to ensure this agreement is kept:

1. ____________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________
3. ____________________________________________________________