Bring Long-Term Concerns to the Bargaining Table

By on / Dealmaking

Adapted from Take the Long View by Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni for the Negotiation newsletter.

It can be difficult to keep future concerns at the forefront of your company’s most important decisions. Fortunatly, research on intergenerational conflict has uncovered best practices for ensuring that you and your employees take the long view.

1. Weigh Long-Term Financial Matters

When you sit down at the bargaining table, remind yourself of any long-term organizational issues at stake – and remember that these may affect people who are not seated at the table. After all, the consequences of your decisions may not fully materialize until a much later date.

These decisions have a strong financial component. If state and local governments cannot follow through on unrealistic pension promises, for instance, their credit ratings may suffer, making it more difficult for them to sell bonds of otherwise borrow money.

On the flip side, long-term thinking can put your organization ahead of the competition.

2. Promote Long-Term Affinity

When you care about the future of those who will follow you, you will be more motivated to act on their behalf. A sense of affinity with future generations leads negotiators to view the long-term consequences of their actions as more immediate and personal. This affinity can help you align short-term interests, thereby reducing the psychological distance between generations and promoting intergenerational beneficence.

How can you increase affinity with those not present at the table? Rather than distinguishing between “us” (those currently in the workforce) and “them” (younger generations and those not yet born), try to view – and encourage others to view – your industry, organization, or department as including all present and future members.

When people frame long-term decisions using inclusive language and focus on common goals that can be attained by cooperative action, they are more likely to view future generations as part of their larger group.

And because a common opposition can unite different groups, negotiators might choose to view their organization as a collection of present and future actors working together against the forces of competition.

3. Emphasize Responsibility

As noted earlier, a critical feature of intergenerational contexts is the inherent power asymmetry between generations. How can we, the powerful present generation, make more conscientious decisions regarding the future? By increasing our sense of responsibility to those who will follow us.

4. Look Backward – And Forward

In negotiation, reciprocity rules the day: you suggest a trade-off or concession, and I suggest one in turn. But present and future generations rarely have the opportunity to reciprocate each other’s behavior directly. Instead, we tend to ‘reciprocate’ the positive or negative behavior of previous generations by treating the next generation in the same manner. Whether through a sense of retrospective obligation or retaliation, we pass on benefits or burdens depending on how we ourselves were treated.

It’s tempting to view our consideration of future generations or lack thereof in an entirely negative light. After all, many past economic and environmental decisions have caused us long-term harm and will continue to harm our children and grandchildren. Why should we expect that we will behave better than past generations?

In fact, there is reason for hope. We want to feel that life is meaningful, that we have a sense of purpose, and that we will make a useful contribution to the world. Acting on behalf of future generations can help us leave a legacy.

To encourage employees to contribute to the long-term well-being of the organization while simultaneously creating their own legacy, organizations can establish service and performance awards bonuses. For instance, you might reward employees for negotiating contracts that address long-term financial and environmental concerns. Leaving a group, an organization, or a professional field in better condition than when you entered it can help you create lasting value – a goal that can guide decisions and negotiations throughout your career.


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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