Typically, when parties are negotiating over a resource they both desire – whether fees, budgets, salaries, schedules, or staff – the process results in an uninspired compromise somewhere between their positions. Is it possible to avoid a compromise when a negotiation involves tough distributive issues.
Mary Parker Follett, a pioneer in the negotiation field, thought the answer was an unequivocal yes.
“A Dairymen’s Co-operative League almost went to pieces last year over the question of precedence in unloading cans at a creamery platform,” she wrote in an article published back in 1926. Two groups of truckers, one coming up a hill, and one going down, both wanted to unload first.
According to Follett, both sides’ thinking was “confined within the walls of these two possibilities.”
However, she wrote that an outsider came up with a different approach: change the position of the platform so that the “uphillers and downhillers could unload at the same time.”
This remarkably simple solution allowed both sides to get what they wanted – without having to toss a coin, take turns, split the difference, or carefully analyze their underlying interests.
Whenever negotiators are in conflict, as when they are haggling over a mutually desired resource, they are likely to view the situation from vastly different perspectives.
You may think you are acting strategically and legitimately, but your counterpart probably disagrees. In his article, “Divide the Pie – Without Antagonizing the Other Side,” in the November 2006 issue of the Negotiation newsletter, Robert C. Bordone presented a number of strategic approaches to claiming value while preserving relationships in distributive negotiations.
When parties that are arguing their positions reach an impasse, that very impasse offers a way to identify creative solutions.
Consider what happened when two professors in the same department both desired a spacious office that recently had been vacated. Their relationship grew strained – until they made some inquiries and discovered that funds were available for office expansion and renovations. Now there was more than one nice office.
After checking into the availability of those funds, they were able to expand the pie.
By striving to appreciate the other party’s point of view, Deborah M. Kolb and her colleague Judith Williams have noted you can use appreciative moves to expand and modify how resources are distributed, sometimes without the need to explicitly discuss underlying interests.
What unique approaches do you find helpful when creating value in negotiation? Leave a comment.
Adapted from “When Dividing the Pie, Smart Negotiators Get Creative,” by Deborah M. Kolb and Peter J. Carnevale for the January 2007 Negotiation newsletter.