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April 3, 2018 | 4 min read
Good. Now I have your attention. Is compromise part of negotiation? Yes…but a much smaller part than you might think. The media would have you think that if you engage in negotiation you may have to give up your firstborn or the equivalent to reach a deal. Frankly, that is just nonsense.
The best negotiators can always fall back on compromise, but that is far from their starting point. Negotiation takes two forms. The first is trying to create a deal with another side. The second is to solve a problem or a conflict. Either way, the most effective negotiators see the issues in front of them from a problem-solving perspective. These negotiators flip a challenge ‘six different ways to Sunday’ in order to find all the possible angles and ways of coming up with the best deal or solution possible.
In order to come up with the best solution possible, effective negotiators always look for opportunities to expand the pie before slicing it. By expanding the pie I mean they engage in a creative search for value. In any negotiation, there is a maximum value to be had. This is where compromise falls short – split the difference solutions almost always leave value on the table because people have not explored all the possible avenues to a solution. The negotiators have hit a snag on a challenging issue and instead of getting creative, they split the difference, take a piece of the pie, and go home not realizing that their piece of the pie may very well have been much bigger had they engaged in some creative thinking.
This last point leads to an important insight into effective negotiation – one’s mindset matters…a lot! The old adage goes, “If every problem looks like a nail, use a hammer.” If you enter a negotiation with a win-lose mindset that is where you will end up. If you hold out the possibility that both parties can gain, then much of the time that is where you land. Mutual gain is based on getting down to people interests – understanding their needs and underlying motivations. Why someone does and wants something is far more important than what they want. When you understand why someone wants or needs something there are often many avenues to satisfy that need. Let me give you an example.
I was recently working with a company that provides research tools to academics working in the sciences. One of the salespeople shared a story with me about a potential customer whom she could not get to buy her products…until she really understood her underlying interest. She tried for months, meeting after meeting with the customer…no progress. Then one day she asked the customer if there was anything she should know that she did not already understand. The customer finally opened up. The customer had purchased an expensive machine the previous year, promising her boss that it would really help their research. It turned out that the machine did not help…or at least they had not been able to figure how to use it to its maximum potential. Upon hearing this, the salesperson explained that if that was the problem she could help the customer. Some of the tools she had to offer could be used with that machine and could, indeed, help them with many aspects of their research. The customer was thrilled — she could finally get out of her boss’ doghouse and prove her worth. They were able to reach a deal shortly thereafter. This only got done because the salesperson finally understood the customer’s underlying interest.
So, in summary, if you are compromising you are leaving potential value on the table. Instead, get creative, search for value, view negotiation as a problem-solving endeavor, shift your mindset from win-lose to mutual gain, and move from positions to interests. If you do all of these things you will be well on your way to reaching better and more effective deals in whatever your context may be.