During an international negotiation, even when negotiators believe they sincerely want to reach an outcome that is fair to all, their perceptions of what constitutes a fair agreement are likely to be self-serving. As a result, they are likely to believe they deserve a greater share of a given resource than an unbiased observer would judge to be fair.
China’s establishment of an “air defense” zone over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea back in November of 2013 is just one salvo in an escalating international dispute. Japan and China both laid claim to the islands, known as the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China, which is believed to be rich in oil and is also strategically important, according to CNN.
China’s “unilateral action constitutes an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea. Escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in response to China’s air defense move.
China began patrolling the zone, and its planes reportedly came within miles of Japanese airspace several times. Each time, Japan launched fighter jets in response. Meanwhile, Vietnam and the Philippines made their own claims to the sea.
This type of conflict over scarce resources can be particularly tricky to resolve. Business negotiators facing this type of resource division may be able to avoid conflict by spending time thinking about each party’s contributions and claims. By consciously taking another person’s perspective, we become equipped to consider the situation with greater rationality and fairness.
In our own business negotiations, how can we convince a counterpart that concessions we view to be essential—whether on financial, moral, or other grounds—is not the first in a line of toppling dominoes?
First, work to build trust in international negotiation.
- If your counterpart is new to you, or if past international negotiation hasn’t gone their way, you can’t expect them to trust your motives. Give the other side space to air their concerns and past grievances, and apologize and make amends for any actions of yours that created mistrust.
Second, ask questions and share information during an international negotiation.
- Devote plenty of time to a back-and-forth dialogue about the issues at stake. By asking the other party lots of questions about their positions, you can reveal their underlying interests. In addition, share information about your own interests. This type of open exchange should allow you to uncover potential tradeoffs.
Third, demonstrate principles of good-faith bargaining during an international negotiation.
- Rather than demanding a unilateral concession, look for ways to try to make the other party whole. It’s unrealistic to expect any negotiator to make a big concession without the promise of a corresponding benefit or evidence that you are making concessions in return.