Meditations on Negotiation

How do you actually negotiate?

Do you back yourself and the other party into a corner, or wall, or are you open, flexible and ready for the unexpected? Do you negotiate from open interest (multiple variables or options) or from a fixed position (yes/no, either/or, good/bad)? For those who tend to rely on the more linear of these two options-you might consider how limiting this mindset it--and what you are actually negotiating.

Those of you over 40 should remember your 1980's history class definition of brinksmanship. If you've forgot, you can check it here. In short, brinksmanship is the notion that things need to be pushed right to the edge and kept there to protect one's interests. Among other contributions to humanity besides trickle-down economics and massive deregulation, Reagan made an entire presidency out of the notion that we ought to be on the edge of all out nuclear obliteration to avoid obliteration. Makes perfect sense, right? Aside from political considerations, such as the fact that Reagan inherited this from previous administrations all the way back to Ike--and although I'm sure many readers will disagree, I'm curious how much of this we do in our business lives. All of us at one time or another has been exposed to the "do or die" mindset. 

Aren't all of us teetering or negotiating from a sort  of brinksmanship, where we feel tremendously invested in our business decisions to the point of excruciating stress? Most of us, (as evidenced by the reception to my last piece), feel overly connected from work lives and therefore have far too much riding on our decisions. What are we afraid of exactly? That our business lives are not the be-all, end-all of our existence, and that it might leak out mid-negotiation that we are human and want security? 

Brinksmanship doesn't because no one likes the feeling of sitting on the edge of a tall building and risking their neck for unknown reward. No one likes feel insecure.  The notion of mutually assured destruction, (lose/lose instead of win/win), albeit held historically between enemies, is not a very good way to negotiate.

Of course, your garden-variety deal jockey will tell you that this is the very spice of life. It's not. It's the stuff of ulcers and cat-scans. Negotiating and deal brinksmanship are antithetical, because one is only negotiating on the basis of what one is afraid of--not one one has to gain. Catastrophic loss is imminent in brinksmanship--that's what gives it power. How, I would ask--has this crazy mentality crept into our business lives? The tenuous balance between a job and struggling makes seemingly mundane decisions of our work life (should I speak up about this to my boss about my raise?) that much more potent. I would invite the reader to consider that the high stakes game that is somewhat de rigeur for business is hardly worth the the stress, albeit far more subtle than ballistic missiles.

There is a substantial difference between negotiating from interest, as opposed to negotiating from a fixed position and relying on brinksmanship no matter how subtle. Namely the former offers a far larger measure of latitude and opportunity than the latter. Indeed when one has arranged one's interest--long term that is--the negotiating table is yours. By foregoing short-term interests we allow ourselves to find a greater field of opportunities, not limited to a linear either/or, win/lose mentality. 

Nuclear brinksmanship introduced to the world the absurd notion that to guarantee the long-term survival of humanity--we should sit at the very precipice of destruction--indefinitely. Of course this is patently absurd. Yet, how often do we find ourselves in the exact same set of circumstances-be it in our marriages or jobs. When we allow the field of options to be limited to one extreme or another--we effectively ignore the limitless possibilities that exist. We become linear, limited and can only be motivated by what we don't want to happen. There is no negotiating power in fear. None. 

When we negotiate from interest and stay focused and activated with things that are realistic, they will most likely happen. Whenever we are fixed on a position and sitting on the brink of loss, we are effectively distancing ourselves from the almost infinite possibilities that exist. That’s right, if you are negotiating for something specific, you are inherently limiting yourself to what you “think” you want. While you are busy planning for the the one thing you desire most, you are actually settling for the finite, which may be far less than the Universe might have in store for you.

The truth is, it takes humility to see that we can’t know the reach of our lives from the information we have right now. It takes kindness to negotiate openly with a view of limitless possibility than it does to back a person against the wall. When we can only see what is right in front of us, we cannot afford brinksmanship. We must seek the greater horizon. It’s better to negotiate from interest and flex to accept whatever result we get than to chase after the paltry option of destruction. 


Louis D. Lo PraesteComment