Quick: what’s the first thing that you think about when you picture your next negotiation in your mind? Unless you are Mother Teresa’s brother / sister I’ll bet that you saw yourself walking away from the bargaining table with the best deal in the world , you had gotten everything that you had wanted and more. Umm, what about the other side? That’s why win-win negotiating never works.
How Win-Win Negotiating Is Supposed To Work
Too many people have created in their minds a magical world where win-win negotiating (where lions lay down with lambs, money grows on trees, etc.) always works. Instead of worrying about things like price, delivery date, and quantities, you are expected to instead be worrying about how the other side “feels” and what kind of deal will make them “happy“. Balderdash.
I don’t know about you, but I am forced to live in the real world. Flat out I don’t have the time to spend trying to worry about how the other side of the table is feeling today. It may come as no surprise to you that in my experience the other side is not spending any time trying to decode what my lucky mood ring is telling them about my current feelings either.
This kind of Pollyanna approach to negotiating does not work and the folks who go around writing books about it and teaching negotiating courses based on it have created a generation of negotiators who are, dare I say it?, ineffective.
Win-Win In The Real World
I like the part about “win-win” where I win in a negotiation; however, I’m a bit leery about the other side winning also , doesn’t that mean that I lost something? It sure does if I’m sitting at table with you and a stack of 100 $1 bills and you and I are negotiating about how much of the stack each of us gets. Every $1 bill that you get is one that I don’t get , and I want ’em all. I’ve been in negotiations like this and they basically suck.
In the real world you and I are sitting at a table on which is a pile of eggs, a chicken, and a pig. Now let’s start negotiating. Maybe I run a restaurant and you run a grocery store. On the surface things look the same as the stack of $1 bills example. However, this time around we’ve each got different needs. We actually might be able to find some common ground.
If I’m running a restaurant, then I’ve got dinners that I’ve got to cook tonight. If you’re running a grocery story then you’ve got to stock your shelves for this week , we’re both trying to solve time related supply issues. Long after the eggs, chicken, and the pig are gone I’ll still need to get supplies for my restaurant and you would love to sell those to me.
For creating my dinners, the chicken and the pig are more valuable to me, for stocking shelves for a week, the eggs and the chicken are more valuable to you. I’d might be willing to give up on the eggs if you’d give up on the pig. In fact when it comes to that pig, I’m interested in using the ham for a dinner and you might be interested in the bacon to go with the eggs that you’ll be selling to people buying breakfast food.
What you’re seeing here is how our self-interests start to overlap. No Pollyanna “I want to hold your hand” stuff, instead I’m still just thinking about myself; however, as more of my drivers are put on the table we’re finding out that you have many of the same drivers. Negotiating a deal that solves more of our common drivers is what’s going to create the best long-term solution.
Ever since that dang Getting to Yes book came out, negotiators have been pursuing a mythical unicorn-like type of negotiation , one where everyone gets what they wants and walks away from the table happy.
In the real world, this just simply doesn’t exist. Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where we need to work very hard to make sure that our side of the table’s needs are taken care of because nobody else is looking out for us.
Where there is some hope comes from taking a close look at our self-interests and finding out if there is any overlap with the other side’s. Where we are able to find common ground, we’ve got an opportunity to create a deal that will benefit both of us at the same time. As long as I get my chicken and my part of the pig, I’ll be happy.
Do you think that win-win negotiating has any place in real-world negotiations?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
One situation that my students seem to struggle with over and over again is the case where it’s them and a whole bunch of other companies all trying to get the same deal. The other companies appear to be prettier, smarter, and all around better , what chance do any of us have against them?