Negotiating Nicely

Whenever I think about negotiation, I recall an exercise we did in law school to practice negotiation. I got demolished by the other guy. He would not budge one bit, To come to any agreement at all, I had to give. He would rather have failed than give at all. So by the rules of that exercise, he won because I compromised and he got everything he wanted.

I had numerous reactions to that event:

  1. I realized that I really didn’t want to be doing this for a living.
  2. I never wanted to work with that guy ever again.
  3. I thought I was wrong in how I approached negotiation.

Years later, I realize #3 is untrue. Negotiation is not about gets a higher score — it is about finding the closest possibility to a win-win situation for any given scenario. That was my goal then – to understand the other side’s needs, compare them to my own, and find common ground. I don’t believe in a combative approach to compromise. I believe that two sides who genuinely want a productive partnership can be open with each other, discuss their needs, and get to a middle ground where both are happy.

There is a somewhat well-known concept that a good compromise is achieved when both sides are equally dis-satisfied. But that doesn’t have to mean both sides are unhappy… put a positive spin on it, and both sides can come out of a negotiation with equal feelings that they found the best possible deal. I feel it is a bad precedent for a working relationship to have one side feeling they got the better of the other.

When thinking about this in the context of your own work, think about your ongoing negotiation with your boss. What will provide the best long-term benefit? A combative relationship? Or one where you both understand each others needs, and look for ways to help each other achieve personal and professional goals? When an employee and employer both want each other to succeed, they often do.