Adversarial Negotiation

So the second post that this post by Miri at Brute Reason inspired is about negotiation, and follows on from the idea that I talked about last time, which is that she wants more money and different hours, but makes no attempt to discuss or point out or even consider how her getting what she wants works out better for her employer. She’s trying to get as much as she can, but she doesn’t even consider what that would mean for her employer. Sure, we can see why she wants that deal, but why would her employer want to give it to her?

It seems to me that we’ve adopted an adversarial approach to negotiation, where we see the exchange as us trying to get as much as we can for ourselves while at best not being concerned with what the other party wants, and at worst even wanting to get what we want at the other party’s expense. But in pondering this, this seems to me to be utterly ridiculous, especially if we think that we might not have more power than the other party does in the exchange. If we have more power than them, we can force them to accept the worse deal … right up until the point we don’t have that power anymore, at which point at best they’ll walk. If they have more power than us, in general we won’t be happy if they impose on us and will grumble about how “unfair” they were … and won’t feel any obligation to hold to the deal if they can no longer impose on us. And if we’re equal in power, then this sort of negotiation … won’t go well.

It seems to me that most people calculate whether or not their negotiation was successful based on whether or not they “win”, whether they come away from the deal better off than the other party. But to me, it seems that the ideal negotiated agreement is one where no one wins because both parties get everything they need and want from the deal. If the two parties got together, gave their lists of what they wanted, and had the other side say “That works for us!” that, to me, is a remarkably successful negotiation, even though no one actually “won”. It’s only that sometimes it’s not possible for all parties to get what they want that negotiation becomes a problem at all, and even in those cases it seems to me that we ought to want the other party to be as happy with the deal as possible, if for no other reason than if they are happy with it, they are more likely to stick with it or deal with us in the future. If they feel that we’re cheating them, how likely are they to want to keep dealing with us?

Thus, we need to abandon the idea that we need to “win” a negotiation — ie that we need to do “better” than the other party does in any negotiation — and instead hold to the idea that we want the best possible deal that satisfies the most needs and wants of all parties. We don’t want “steals”, but instead want deals that, on reflection, everyone says they’re happy with. Or at least content with.

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