Negotiation training often focuses on the identification of “shared interests” and the search for common ground between parties. However, this sound advice can also inadvertently lead negotiators to miss potential opportunities for joint gains. The search for differences in negotiations can help parties discover many additional value-creating possibilities while also improving the outcome for all sides.
For example, an English property development firm had assembled most of the land outside of London it needed to build a large regional hospital. However, a key parcel remained and its owner stubbornly refused to sell even after offers of more than double the appraised value of the land.
Frustrated, the firm’s chief executive made a personal appointment with the elderly owner at her home. As he looked around he noticed several pictures of a small dog. The owner sadly recounted how “dear Fluffy” had passed away three years ago and was buried in the cottage’s tiny garden.
The executive delicately asked the woman if she had considered what would happen to the spot in the coming years. “Would a proper, well tended memorial be appropriate?”
In the end, the development firm was able to purchase the land for close to its appraised value and the woman was able to find an apartment close to Fluffy’s memorial.
This story demonstrates two of the most important truths about successful negotiation. First, differences between the two parties can be the most powerful elements of joint gain. Second, finding these differences requires moving beyond apparent intractable bargaining positions and examining the other side’s true interests.
Value Creating Differences are those differences that one side can meet comparatively easily or economically but offer significant value to the other side and vice versa. They are crucial to creating joint gains among parties. It was easy for the executive to create a memorial for Fluffy, something very important to her. Likewise, the owner enabled the developer to proceed with a simple sale and move forward with construction of the hospital.