#58 Is Negotiation What You Think It Is?

Is Negotiation What You Think It Is?

For many people the term ‘negotiation’ conjures up visions of trade deals and collective agreements. For others, ‘negotiation’ broadly includes two co-workers reaching a decision on which coffee shop to meet at.

For me, a negotiation occurs when people are seeking an agreement and something is at stake for them. This notion includes an investment of some kind in the outcome, therefore a casual decision over where to meet for coffee is not included because it does not bring the dynamics of negotiation to the forefront.

On the other hand, a talk with a 10-year-old about bedtime might have quite a bit at stake for either the parent or child, or both, and therefore would be captured by the term as I define it. What about a non-verbal power struggle between an infant and parent over how much time they spend together? Although there are no words exchanged, to me the settlement that may be worked out is negotiated.

A working definition of negotiation is: communication between parties with the purpose of achieving an agreement about something that is at stake between them

What if only one person wants to negotiate? Until both parties are invested to some degree in reaching an outcome, there is no true negotiation.

This additionally means that it is possible to conduct a sham negotiation in which one feigns an interest in agreement, but is unwilling to work towards it or only pretends to do so. An example of this is one party in a litigation using negotiation primarily as a means of collecting information for a trial.

How one conducts oneself during ‘negotiation’ can determine, as above, whether there is a negotiation. One’s conduct also has a large bearing on the character of a genuine negotiation; for example, to what degree does a negotiator attempt to reach a fair agreement, and to what degree does he or she attempt to reach the best agreement for himself at the expense of the other party? And, how much openness is practiced?

To me the question of conduct in a negotiation has two central underlying aspects to it:

1) Transparency – how open are negotiators with each other regarding their intentions, as well as regarding information they possess, important thoughts they are having, and feelings they are experiencing?

2) Intention – to what degree, if at all, are they trying to take advantage of the other party?

I will close this post with a question: In establishing a fair negotiation process, which is more important – transparency and intention?

For example, to illustrate the difference between these two aspects, you could a) take full advantage of the other negotiator, having disclosed that you would attempt to do so; or b) take advantage of the other negotiator in a small way, not having disclosed your general intention to do so.

You may respond to this question below. I’m curious about your thoughts.

In the next several posts, I will continue this exploration of negotiation.

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