Learning how to negotiate well is the last of the
low-hanging fruit from a management point of view.
Negotiation is the most frequent voluntary activity engaged in
by the human species – yet it is a confusing business. It
ranges from the simplest things that we do, from ordering a coffee,
to trying to resolve the problems of the ages: religious,
territorial or ideological conflicts.
Many millions of people have died due to the fundamental failure
of negotiations – that murderous phenomenon known as
uncontrolled escalation. Yet we, the great unsung majority of the
world's population, go about our business peacefully and
The volume of negotiation events in highly connected societies
is immense, with the advent of the internet, but few of us ever
think of the true purpose of a negotiation, nor the means by which
we do it.
By definition, negotiation is every event, in person, in
writing, or electronic, by which we seek to influence other
people's behaviour, or vice versa. We talk about reaching
agreement, achieving consensus, mutuality or resonance, but I
suggest that the true aspirational objective of the negotiation
process ought be creating value.
Regrettably our instincts tend to let us down quite
dramatically, particularly when we negotiate at speed (the norm
these days, thanks to email and mobile phones). While the real
objective is to achieve, wherever possible, an integrative outcome,
our instincts seem to push us towards distributive bargaining, the
most basic, but most intuitive method of all. This "more for
you, less for me" or zero sum approach creates little or no
Negotiation skills training can quite quickly develop different
structural approaches where one can genuinely attempt to create the
true "win / win" outcome where possible. Professor
William Ury encourages us to "go slow to go fast" –
no easy thing in our society. Other authors say that agreeing with
someone is as much of a habit as disagreeing, but of course the
challenge is how to do it.
One of the easiest but most often ignored ways of creating value
is by developing the skill of being genuinely empathetic. Many
authors have written about this and Howard Raiffa in his book
"The Art and Science of Negotiation" has identified the
management of the tension between empathy and assertiveness as one
of the key skills of the negotiator. Sadly many negotiators,
fuelled by a misconception that merely driving for an outcome is
desirable and sufficient, flame out long-term because of their
failure to manage relationships. It is this inherent tension of
balancing empathy with assertiveness where so much readily
available value is unnecessarily destroyed by the zero sum
We know that repetitive disciplined structured processes can
significantly improve our negotiation performance, but very few
people take the time, or even know where to look, to upskill. Given
that negotiation permeates the very fabric of our lives, that seems
unwise and illogical. Learning how to negotiate well is what I
suggest is the last of the low-hanging fruit from a management
point of view.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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