When interests collide, some managers dig in their heels: You get your way or I get mine. Others go for a compromise where the plan is to give up as little as possible. Neither strategy is likely to lead to the best outcome. But businesses, nonprofits, government agencies … and even rock ‘n’ rollers … have discovered better ways, as we shall see.
For example, when you’re mired in a dispute, it’s natural to focus on differences. But negotiation experts at Harvard University suggest looking for hidden similarities instead. Identifying shared interests that aren’t competitive can pave the way to a solution that benefits all parties, Harvard authorities recommend.
The Harvard Program on Negotiation specializes in win-win solutions to disputes, even ones the parties have written off as intractable. Success is all in the mindset, Harvard experts say. Rather than viewing the matter as an “intractable” dispute, view it as a business deal – then pursue it as you would a deal, looking for ways to create value.
Next, examine hidden attitudes. Many disputants are overconfident they’ll come out on top; and this overconfidence can lead to inflated expectations. Ego often gets in the way too, giving disputants the false sense that they’re being fair while the other side is not. Both overconfidence and egoism can derail negotiations.
Then, look ahead. Solutions may take years to implement — years in which the parties will be tempted to violate the agreement’s terms or spirit. But when you anticipate problems that could arise, you can build in safeguards against them. For instance, suppose your agreement involves a complicated multi-stage product redesign and relaunch. You might agree to a staged implementation with preset fees for achieving predictable milestones, plus an hourly rate for other work.
Finally, look past the money on the table. In most cases there are other things the parties care about. These may be hard to spot at first, but finding them can lead to gratifying payoffs.
Take the case of The Postal Service — the musical group, that is. This electro-pop duo saw its career take off in 2003 with release of its first album, “Give Up,” which sold more than 400,000 copies. Two singles — “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” — were getting airplay too. For Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard, life was good … until the actual Postal Service, also known as United States Postal Services (USPS), entered their lives.
USPS served them with a cease-and-desist letter alleging trademark infringement. The agency was concerned that the musical group was diluting its trademarked brand by calling itself “The Postal Service.”
Tamborello and Gibbard had concerns of their own. They were riding high as “The Postal Service.” It couldn’t be a worse moment to adopt a new name.
How might two young musicians go about taking on one of the largest enterprises on the globe?
They could hire high-priced lawyers and dig in for a battle that could drag on for years and cost many millions of dollars … a battle they might lose.
Or they could roll over and give up … and then they would lose.
Or they could negotiate the Harvard way and search for interests that both “The Postal Service” and the Postal Service shared.
Negotiate they did. The Internet and e-mail have cost USPS dearly, especially among the young who listen to indie-pop bands, Tamborello and Gibbard pointed out. But if they were allowed to keep using their name, they would put the USPS trademark notice on their albums, promote the use of USPS among their fans, and even perform at an annual USPS event.
It was negotiation jujitsu — the weaker party finding leverage by identifying where it and the stronger party shared common ground — and it worked … as it has for thousands of organizations and individuals that follow the philosophy of mutual-gains negotiation pioneered at Harvard. This new way of looking at and resolving disputes — one that seeks to maximize benefits for all sides – has changed the way the world negotiates, and made the Harvard Program on Negotiation the leader in the field.
Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
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