This blog owes its central theme of using reciprocity in negotiation to Gordon Sloan’s take on a passage in Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes. Negotiation should be reciprocal communication, that is, each party should be able to participate in negotiation in an equivalent manner. Therefore, if only one party is able to use a tactic, there is a lack of reciprocity and the integrity of the negotiation is threatened.
Keep this notion of reciprocity and lack of reciprocity in the back of your mind as you read the following examples of manipulation, tricks, and power grabs.
~ The other negotiator periodically slams the table with his hand and storms out of the room.
~ The other negotiator says if you don’t agree to her position, she will break off negotiating and pursue an impactful course of action such as a strike.
~ The other party, having agreed to a term on the previous day, returns the next morning and disingenuously explains that some previously unforeseen factor means that the term must be revisited in his favour.
A negotiator is likely to respond in one of two ways to such ploys: curiously ask what the other party hopes to gain from the behaviour, or assertively request that the other party stop the behaviour.
However, both of these responses are potentially problematic. The curious question is not likely to yield a genuine answer such as: “I’m trying to take advantage of you,” or “I need to lessen my fears.” On the other hand, an assertive response may bring an end to one behaviour, but it does not effectively address the general intention to manipulate, which could manifest in another form.
Rather than ask for the behaviour to stop, or seek to learn about what is behind it, Gordon Sloan suggests a counter-intuitive practice. Consider the manipulation as a proposal – a proposal for how both of you will negotiate. Emboldened with this attitude, you ask the other party to consider what will happen if you both negotiate as he just has. This approach suggests a return to reciprocity not by eliminating manipulation, but by making it a shared behaviour – one that either of you can employ as part of negotiation.
This method of addressing manipulation requires the other negotiator to significantly reconsider her behaviour. It asks her to consider the effectiveness of her tactic given that you are willing to adopt it as well, and by implication, adopt any other form of manipulation she might try.
If you are following collaborative principles, you will have already made clear your preferred way to negotiate. You would like to consider both of your concerns and work together towards a resolution that at worst you can both live with and at best maximizes available joint gains.
Applying this method to the examples above, you might respond as follows:
~ ‘What will this negotiation be like if I also periodically slam the table, speak loudly, and then leave the room for two minutes?’
~ ‘How will negotiation move forward if both of us say we will only accept what we have proposed, and add that we will institute a lock-out or a strike if it is not accepted?’
~ ‘How frequently do you suggest that each of us can ask for a term to be renegotiated?’
When viewed from the perspective of reciprocity there are two possible types of responses to manipulation. Firstly, seeking a return to reciprocity by asking for the manipulation to stop or trying to eliminate what is motivating it.
Secondly, counter-intuitively, we can treat the manipulative behaviour as a proposal for how both us can proceed in negotiation. On that basis we ask the other negotiator about the effect of us both adopting the manipulative behaviour. This question is intended to motivate the other negotiator to more deeply reconsider the merits of the manipulative behaviour.