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Steve Cohen appeared as a guest respondent in this column in June 2003. This month he has brought not only the answer, but also the question for our readers. Mr. Cohen receives questions from his international clients and publishes them along with his answers on his web site at www.negotiationskills.com and he and I thought that the question and his answer might interest our readers also.
And now, this months letter…
Is This A Perfect Balance — Or Is There Such A Thing?
From: Wim (Naarden, The Netherlands)
Question: If in a negotiation —
The power balance between two firms is neutral and If negotiator A has the intention to look after the needs and interests of negotiator B and B has the intention to do this for negotiator A. If there is also trust between both negotiators and their firms.
Is this a perfect and constructive climate to reach a win/win plus result, or do I make a mistake?
Response: Your description could be viewed as showing a perfect and constructive climate to achieve an ideal result. However, parts of your definition require more careful examination:
Win/Win is a dangerously overused expression. Many people think it means that each party walks away from negotiation with an equal level of gain. This is not realistic. We define a successful negotiation as a process which leads to an agreement each party will willingly fulfill. That does not imply equality as to the perception of results, but rather a more realistic situation in which parties may not end up with everything they want but are comfortable enough with the result to fulfill their end of the bargain.
1. My next concern is how one can conclude there is a neutral balance of power between the parties. Even if two individuals representing different parties agree there is an equality of power between them, will their constituents or other interested parties reach the same conclusion? What facts need to be considered and what facts should be ignored by the parties and other stakeholders in measuring the balance of power could itself be a matter of dispute.
2. A negotiator’s overwhelmingly critical obligation is to pursue his/her own interests. Negotiators must weigh every word they say, every offer they make, every concession they offer against one question over all others: “Will this serve or harm my interests or those of the organization I represent?”
It is perfectly reasonable to hope that negotiators will be attentive to and will be committed to responding to the interests of other parties. One of the issues to which TNSC pays close attention is the challenge of ‘getting into the head’ of one’s own colleagues and external parties with whom one is negotiating. In our experience working with people who have been part of the same team for years, we gave found that the assumption that a common mind-set exists among all members of the same team is usually not realistic. Even in a close-knit family it is risky to conclude that a parent (for example) can fully empathize with a child’s interests. A parent may say, “This is the rule because I know it is good for you.” It is an entirely different matter to assume that the child will agree without argument.
3. Trust is crucial. The negotiation process — from preparation to face-to-face dealings to implementation of the deal — requires constant testing and re-testing of whether other parties are revealing critical information and will fulfill their commitments. One hopes that trust, once established, will only grow. Our experience is that negotiators who have trust in each other tend to be able to reach wise agreements more quickly and more efficiently. But life if full of surprises, and one must always be on the lookout for changes in the situation of the folks with whom one negotiates.
Enjoy the process,
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