I have now spent more than five years in the professional arts world, where deals are constantly being negotiated between artists, managers, promoters, producers, presenters, unions, audiences, sponsors, volunteers, advertising partners, donors, etc. Although I had previously negotiated contracts for one-time wedding gigs in high school and undergrad—”How much will it cost? What pieces do you want us to play?”—those situations didn’t involve much back-and-forth; however, once I joined the professional world, it was an entirely different story.

I was first confronted with this when, as a cast’s elected Players Representative to the musicians’ union, I was responsible for negotiating a three-year touring agreement between the cast, management, and the union. At the time, I had never heard of the term “collective bargaining agreement” (CBA), nor had I ever been involved in talks with such high stakes involved. While we were successful in coming to an agreement, the experience gave me new insight into both the process of negotiation and my personal negotiation style.

I admit that I am a somewhat competitive negotiator. I tend to go into negotiations thinking, “How can I get the best of my adversary so that I (or those whom I’m representing) get the best deal possible for me (us)?” I believe that a big reason for this is that my first high-stakes negotiation involved two very powerful organizations that were not at all interested in working together. That being said, though, I am also a relatively competitive person in real life, so that obviously transfers into my negotiation style.

This week, in my graduate level course on negotiations (Negotiation 882/901), we read the first 95 pages of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton (3rd edition, 2011) as well as the first chapter of Essentials of Negotiation by Roy Lewicki, David Saunders, and Bruce Barry (5th edition, 2011). Both books, written by heavy hitters in the field of negotiation, are easy reads, but contain an incredible amount of helpful and thought-provoking information. I’m not usually the type to highlight passages in books, but I’m drying out my highlighter trying to keep up with the constant stream of useful hints, tips, and thoughts.

One of the biggest “Ah ha!” moments happened for me on page 3 of Essentials of Negotiation when the authors wrote,

For most people, bargaining and negotiation mean the same thing; however, we will be quite distinctive in the way we use the two words. We will use the term bargaining to describe the competitive, win-lose situations such as haggling over price that happens at a yard sale, flea market, or used car lot; we will use the term negotiation to refer to win-win situations such as those that occur when parties are trying to find a mutually acceptable solution to a complex conflict.

Brilliant! What a subtle yet tremendous impact this distinction in definitions suggests! If, internally, we can separate the idea of haggling and zero-sum situations from the concept of win-win negotiation , we will all be more inclined to work toward mutual gains. It’s so subtle, maybe even obvious, but so powerful and oft-overlooked.

I’m definitely one of those people who has used bargaining and negotiation interchangeably. The industry in which I work does, too: musicians, the union, and management teams enter into negotiations to put together collective bargaining agreements. I wonder: would changing the term to “collectively negotiated agreements” help to dispel any of the negative connotations associated with CBAs? From a strictly impressionistic approach (how it sounds/comes across), “collectively negotiated” seems to imply more collaboration and less conflict than does “collective bargaining.” A quick Google search for “collectively negotiated agreement” shows that this term is in use; however, I’d be interested to read research about whether it actually has an impact on the entire process of reaching the agreements.


Switching gears for a few minutes:

After watching examples of bargaining from the movie The Godfather in class, I suggested that the strong-arm approach taken by the Godfather reminded me of the bargaining tactics currently being used by one of the major political parties in the U.S. Following that class, while reading Essentials of Negotiation, I was struck by how much the authors’ description of how “conflict creates largely destructive consequences” (p. 19) applies to the current political scene in Washington, DC, and across the country. To condense the author’s list into a few paragraphs (using their language):

Parties compete against each other because they believe … that goals are in opposition and both cannot simultaneously achieve their objectives. As conflict intensifies … People come to view things consistently with their own perspective of the conflict. Hence, they tend to interpret people and events as being either with them or against them. In addition, thinking tends to become stereotypical and biased—parties endorse people and events that support their position and reject outright those who oppose them.

Emotions overwhelm clear thinking, and the parties may become increasingly irrational as the conflict escalates. Parties communicate less with those who disagree with them and more with those who agree. The central issues in the dispute become blurred and less well defined. Generalizations abound. The conflict becomes a vortex that sucks in unrelated issues and innocent bystanders. The parties become less clear about … what it will take to solve it.

The parties become locked into their positions. As the other side challenges them, parties become more committed to their points of view and less willing to back down from them for fear of losing face and looking foolish … the parties tend to see issues as simple and “either/or” rather than as complex and multidimensional. As parties lock into commitments and issues become blurred, they tend to see each other—and each other’s positions—as polar opposites. Factors that distinguish and separate them … become highlighted and emphasized, while similarities that they share become oversimplified and minimized. This distortion leads the parties to believe they are further apart from each other than they really may be. As the conflict progresses, each side becomes more entrenched in its own view, less tolerant and accepting of the other, more defensive and less communicative, and more emotional. (Lewicki, Saunders, & Barry, 2011, p. 19)


Back to my reflections on the assigned readings:

I am really enjoying reading Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. I was worried that it would be a dry lecture-turned-book, but was happily surprised to find that the writing style is almost conversational and flows easily. 95 pages flew by, broken only by my need to highlight key points. A few of those key points really stand out in my mind as things that I need to work on as I progress through this negotiations course, my career, and life in general.

“It has been said that the cheapest concession you can make to the other side is to let them know they have been heard” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 37). It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can recall dozens of times, during negotiations or arguments, when I simply did not hear what the other person was saying because I was busy thinking about a response to something he/she had previously said or thinking about how to phrase my next point. Fisher, et al., suggest that to prove one is listening actively, one should “repeat what you understood them to have said, phras[ing] it positively [sic] from their point of view, making the strength of their case clear … Understanding is not agreeing. One can at the same time understand perfectly and disagree completely with what the other side is saying” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 37).

I worry about myself doing this TOO well. I’m a very empathetic person, and so it concerns me that I might unintentionally let my guard down a little too much if I begin to really understand where they’re coming from; after all, they believe in what they want just as much as I believe in what I want. Which of us is right? That being said, however, I absolutely see the benefits in using this suggestion. Not only does it force you to actually listen to what the other side is saying (otherwise, how will you be able to repeat their case?) but it proves to them you care and are making every effort to understand their side. As the authors write, “People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your [sic] interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs [sic]” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 53). It is a win-win approach.

I love the authors’ idea of literally turning the negotiation into “a side-by-side activity in which the two of [us] … jointly face a common task” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 41). By sitting on the same side of the table as the other party, both of us facing whatever represents the issue to be negotiated—contract to be revised, clean white board waiting for brainstorming ideas, etc—we turn the mental image of facing a common problem together into a physical reality. Awesome. (For more on this idea, see list item #1 on page 63 of Essentials).

As for how to package one’s interests and goals for delivery to the other party, Fisher, et al., have an easy suggestion that I really want to work on: “Put the problem before your answer … If you want someone to listen and understand your reasoning, give your interests and reasoning first and your conclusions or proposals later” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, pp. 53-54). Presenting your case in the reverse order will cause the other party to miss your reasoning entirely while they focus on what their response to your conclusion or proposal will be. I made this exact mistake in the first class period when presenting the class’s requests for revision to the syllabus. I started with, “We would like to talk about changing the setup of the weekly journals, specifically about removing the requirement to do the final self-reflection.” I then went back to explain why; however, chances are good that the professor was already thinking about his response to our request and not listening critically to our reasoning. If I were to approach the same situation again, I’d start with, “Throughout the quarter, we’ll be writing cumulative self-reflections in our weekly journals … For these reasons, we would like to talk about removing the final self-reflection requirement.” It’s not my natural presenting style, when I’m on the spot, so I will definitely need to concentrate on, and practice, this skill.

“Since success for you in a negotiation depends upon the other side’s making a decision you want, you should do what you can to make that decision an easy one. Rather than making things difficult for the other side, you want to confront them with a choice that is as painless as possible” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 78). On first read, this rubbed me the wrong way. “After all,” I thought, “even though I need them to make a decision that I want, why do I want to make their life easier? I still want to come out on top!” Then, realizing that I was reacting in my usual competitive manner, I tried a more integrative approach to negotiation only to realize that the answer really is simple: An easy decision for the other party does not mean the result will be in their favor. In exactly the same way that understanding the other side’s argument does not mean one has to agree with it, an easy decision does not have to be a beneficial decision. In fact, in going back to one of the clips from The Godfather, the decision presented by Michael Corleone to the his future wife’s father (at 3:36 of the clip below) was a good, though extreme, example of just this:

I am an American, hiding in Sicily. My name is Michael Corleone. There are people who’d pay a lot of money for that information, but then your daughter would lose a father instead of gaining a husband. I want to meet your daughter with your permission and under the supervision of your family with all respect. (Michael Corleone in The Godfather)

Neither option is good for the Italian father; however, it is a relatively easy decision to make: stay alive or die. Some might argue that he should have protected his daughter by refusing to let them marry, but who’s to say that Corleone wouldn’t have married her, anyways, after killing her father? Again, this is an extreme example, but it does help demonstrate the concept of an easy, though not necessarily beneficial, decision for the other side.

Last, “Never yield to pressure, only to principle … A refusal to yield except in response to sound reasons is an easier position to defend … than is a refusal to yield combined with a refusal to advance sound reasons.” When confronted with pressure, try to calmly ask for the other side’s logic (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011, p. 92). If none is forthcoming, and they refuse to find or use objective criteria, then one might want to reconsider whether they can be trusted to be negotiating in good faith.

The concept of integrative negotiation (also known as cooperative, collaborative, win-win, mutual gains, principled, interest-based, best practice, or problem solving) was something I’ve been exposed to in previous negotiating skills classes. Helpful articles we read in those classes included “Interest-Based Bargaining: Are you looking for an alternative to traditional collective bargaining?” from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service and “Integrative or Interest-Based Bargaining” by Brad Spangler. Both are relatively short, but do a good job of breaking down the concept of interest-based negotiation and determining whether it might be suitable for an individual situation. Combined with the two books we’re reading in this current negotiations course, one can gain a deep understanding of, and appreciate for, this win-win approach to negotiation.

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One Response to Negotiations

  1. Jeremy Hurwitz says:

    Re: bargaining vs negotiation:

    About a decade ago, a Harvard prof wanted to open a “post-negotiation improvement” company. The idea was simple: after all parties had reached a final decision, they would send all relevant information to the company. The company would then find a strictly better outcome (no one does worse, and some parties do better). Confidentiality would be strictly upheld, and any party has veto power to the new agreement. The company would be paid a percentage of the improvement.

    Initial market research showed that there was lots of slack to capitalize on. Companies were routinely leaving thousands of dollars on the table. If everyone was acting rationally, this company would have made billions.

    Instead, it never got off the ground. The slack tended to be asymmetric, with one side gaining $100 while the other side only gained $10. And the +$10 party would veto the agreement. It didn’t matter if that was the only possible improvement; it didn’t matter if the company explained the logic. People would rather lose a free $10 than let their “competitor” gain $100.


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