Professor Susskind talks negotiation obstacles

By — on / Business Negotiations

Q&A with Professor Susskind, MIT’s Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, and Vice Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

Q: You’ve taught for years about overcoming organizational obstacles. What are the most common roadblocks to effective negotiations?

Typically, obstacles occur at all four stages of the negotiation process. First is the preparation stage. Frequently, people under-prepare, even when the value of the deal or negotiation is very high. A host of forces make it hard, sometimes impossible, to effectively prepare. Often, organizations don’t provide adequate support. Negotiation should involve the whole organization, and not be based on what one individual thinks. It’s pretty simple; if you can’t get the support, information, and assistance you need – you can’t prepare.

Second is the opening stage, which is when value is created through cooperation. Many people inadvertently shut the door to value-creating possibilities by failing to engage in cooperative behaviors, because they fear it makes them look weak. Instead, they start out with competitive behaviors, not realizing that you can’t go back.

Third is the closing stage, which is when you take the value and distribute it. When this occurs, people are so concerned about who gets what, and making sure that they get a big share of “the pie,” that they say and do things that undermine the long-term relationship with the other party—all for the sake of a short-term victory.

The fourth stage is follow through. What happens when people don’t live up to their promises? Failure to take account or make agreements that are not self-enforcing can create problems later. The time to discuss how to handle disputes is when an agreement is written, but too often, people don’t do it, because they think it makes it look as if they don’t trust the other side.

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