What is a negotiation? Is it a grade-one default of our social condition? Or a complex fallout of our professional engagements? It is often perceived as the latter. It is most definitely the former.
There are three simple components of a negotiation process: Sitting down at the table, the Process itself and the Exit. It is startling how much we can differ in these three seemingly obvious steps. This post showcases the first, or the Entry Stage, which is about the perceptions one brings along. In doing so, it also highlights an ideal scenario.
We recently executed six one-on-one negotiations during a corresponding course at Queen’s MBA. Each of those was based on a different situation, ranging from the risks of the unethical to the benefits of the ideally collaborative. I saw two distinct perceptual ends in the process, one of which was all too familiar. I call it the See-Saw perception.
It supports the idea of win-or-lose in each little aspect of a deal. Accordingly, the weight of the deal either bends to one side or the other. With the See-Saw perception, the negotiator sees himself sitting on one end of the plank. As the discussions progress, he sees each decision as successfully “pushing his end to the ground” or “being pulled up with legs dangling in uncertainty”. When we speak about achieving a win-win deal, the See-sawers perceive a balanced see-saw with both parties left in a delicate balance that they achieve together. It is a fair end but one that leaves each party with a certain sense of doubt, and wonder, on whether they did the right thing. Negotiation, then, is not necessarily a happy process. Unfortunately, the majority belong to this category.
The See-saw is a simple win-lose equation in effect but becomes significant when we consider the other extreme. I call this a Merry-go-round perception.
It is a utopia. The concept is literally a stable-at-all-times circular platform with two parties sitting along its circumference. When they apply pressure, no one person goes up or down. They simply go around in circles. That sounds like a metaphor for inefficiency, but it is the opposite. Negotiators on a Merry-go-round sit-in to make things work. They do not see the deal as a win-lose, on-ground-off-ground agenda. Consequently, they also do not believe that they have to be the stronger person and make their “weight” count. Instead, as they sit on the horizontal wheel, they find it perfectly level and capable of only one function – turning around. They may change the speed with which it moves, but the only way it would cease to function – or rotate – is if both parties apply pressure in diametrically opposite direction. In that case, a no-deal is actually the best option anyway. However, as long as there is some synchronization in movement, the wheel can and will move.
Merry-go-rounders are actually looking at an entirely different world to the See-sawers. They understand that successful rotation of the wheel would inevitably take them to the opposite end, causing them to see the other person’s perspective, while he or she does the same in turn. Their openness to see that perspective is what makes the wheel turn. As one may imagine, moments of doubt and wonder are greatly reduced, if not eliminated. The feet are always close to the ground and subject to one’s volition. One may try to make things work or walk away.
As it may appear, the two extreme perceptions of negotiations – See-saw and Merry-go-round – hear the same terms and the same suggestions differently. However, in molding ourselves towards a Merry-go-round, we can distance ourselves from the See-saw but inevitably land on varying degrees of – as Prof. Shai Dubey corrected me – a Tilted Merry-go-round perception. It is a hybrid in effect. I encountered it while negotiating the MedLee case where a joint venture had to be worked out between a US company, MedDevices, Inc. – strict on an efficient and objectively fair company culture – and Lee Medical Supplies – a Thai-firm run particular about relationships and a highly contrasting approach to work. In this case, the realities of the joint venture were explored by both parties, and both readily agreed to corresponding adjustments because “it made sense”. For instance, as the son of Mr. Lee, I agreed that a fair system of evaluation was something I would prefer even though it would mean bringing a new approach to my company. As the spokesperson for Mr. Thompson, CEO, my peer accepted that the involvement of family and relations was crucial to getting work done efficiently in Thailand, despite it going against the policy at MedDevices. The win-lose sentiment still existed but we were considerate of the fact that the each of us was answerable back home to someone higher. As was evidenced, a willing interest in other person’s situation made a big difference.
It is fair to say that cultural influence plays a big role in forming perceptions, as do a few other factors. I stand to be corrected, but based on my discussions and observations, I find that the resultant scale of employment of the above perceptions looks something like this:
I came across the word “Coopetition” in a recent post by Biswajit Das, Director, Financial Services (Technology and Innovation) at PWC Canada, that shared PWC’s report entitled “Canadian Banks 2016: Embracing the FinTech Movement.” (http://www.pwc.com/ca/canadianbanks). It is a strategy where competitors collaborate for mutual benefits. I find negotiations to be an ideal place to achieve this. That also marks a significant change undergoing the landscape. Whether it was an art form that is gradually turning into science, or vice versa, is a different topic. But in a corporate world where negotiation is as much emotion as logic and reputation can be made or broken in a single deal, relationships and personal integrity happen to be far more important. What that effectively implies is that negotiation should ideally be a Merry-go-round.
But then, as 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy would corroborate, "idealism" is subjective.
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© 2015 Malay Upadhyay