Negotiating at an Uneven Table, Phyllis Beck Kritek

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994, 339 pp.

Summary by Tanya Glaser

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium


Communication and the limiting of misunderstandings; Negotiation, mediation, facilitation, and consensus building; of general applicability to environmental problems; written for first and third party participants.


Negotiating at an Uneven Table is about negotiating conflicts in situations where some participants are at a disadvantage which others do not acknowledge. It offers strategies for the disadvantaged participants, and methods of recognizing uneven negotiation situations for all participants.

Negotiating at an Uneven Table will be of interest to those who wish to better identify inequalities in negotiation settings, and for those seeking strategies for negotiating from the less-powerful position. This work is divided into twenty-eight chapters presented in three parts. In her preface, the author describes negotiation between unequal participants to a conflict as an "uneven table," a "place where the assurance of justice or fairness is uncertain or unlikely."

Part One focuses on the sources of unequal conflicts, and on the need to better recognize such unevenness when it occurs. In Chapter One the author discusses her own particular vantage point, and discusses the purpose and limitations of conflict resolution. Chapter Two discusses some of the problems which arise in approaching negotiation at an "uneven table." Chapter Three discusses distorted views which serve to obscure the presence of an uneven table, and Chapter Four suggests methods for better recognizing uneven tables. Chapter Five discusses different forms of power, and argues that we are fixated on dominance power: the power to control something or someone. Chapter Six discusses the use of myth and metaphor in imagining alternatives to our obsession with dominance power, and Chapter Seven discusses some of the myths and metaphors which support the "illusions we live by." Chapter Eight concludes this section by suggesting ways to move beyond our illusions and develop a more accurate view of reality.

Part Two reviews traditional approaches to negotiating from a less powerful position. Chapters Nine and Ten discuss manipulation, and identify the various forms which manipulation may take. The author argues that "the most traditional way of dealing with the injustice of an uneven table is to be unjust in response, but in an artful and insidious manner." Chapter Eleven goes on to identify manipulative behaviors which have become so commonplace as to be considered acceptable forms of maneuvering. Chapter Twelve discusses the impact of two forms of emotional immaturity on unequal negotiations. Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen address the need for participants to grow and evolve during the course of negotiation, and the need to consider new approaches to negotiating at an uneven table.

Part Three proposes a number of "ways of being" which help to constructively approach uneven negotiating tables. Chapter Fifteen describes a "way of being" as the "manner, method or approach with which one chooses to manifest his or her presence at an uneven table." In Chapter Sixteen the author describes the cultural "paradigm shift" which is currently underway. Chapters Seventeen through Twenty-six each describe a specific "way of being." These chapters discuss truthfulness, integrity, compassion, and innovation. They discuss establishing one's position, acknowledging the limits of one's knowledge, and explaining the context. Finally they address the importance of staying in the dialogue, and knowing when and how to leave negotiations. Chapter Twenty-seven summarizes these points. Chapter Twenty-eight concludes this work with an invitation to reflect on its proposals and correspond with the author.

Negotiating at an Uneven Table discusses the difficulties of negotiating from an unequal position, and offers approaches designed to improve such negotiations. It is copiously illustrated with stories from the author's own experiences, and includes many exercises to guide the reader's own reflections on conflict between unequals.


G10KRIT (9A)