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Today’s negotiations

May 22, 2012

In 2010, Harvard Business Review published an article co-written by Jeff Weiss and Jonathan Hughes of Vantage Partners. It was entitled ‘Extreme Negotiations’ and here is the synopsis (the highlighting is mine):

“Business leaders today report feeling that they must constantly negotiate to extract complex agreements from people with power over their industry or individual career. Sensing that they’re in continual danger makes them want to act fast, project control (even when they don’t have any), rely on coercion, and defuse tension at any cost.

The end result may be a compromise that fails to address the real problem or opportunity, increased resistance from the other side that makes agreement impossible, resentment that sours future negotiations, a failure to develop relationships based on mutual respect and trust, or an agreement that creates enormous exposure to future risk.

To avoid these dangers, executives can apply the same strategies used by well trained military officers in hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq. Those in extremis negotiators solicit others’ points of view, propose multiple solutions and invite their counterparts to critique them, use facts and principles of fairness to persuade the other side, systematically build trust and commitments over time, and take steps to reshape the negotiation process as well as the outcome.”

I am sure many negotiators can relate to these statements. But it is my impression that the syndrome that Messrs. Weiss and Hughes raise in this article is far more widespread than they suggest. I do not think it is restricted to executives; I think for many it has become a symptom of organizational behavior.

Most organizations (and the employees within them) today feel under constant time pressure. They are overwhelmed by the ease – and consequent volume – of communication, which has in many cases slowed decision-making, not accelerated it. This problem is compounded by the growth of choice (opportunities are global) and the speed of change (there is always a new idea or offering just around the corner). So we are continually worried about whether we are making the right choice; will I regret my decision tomorrow? Factors such as these create tremendous stress and frustration, especially because of the difficulty in getting decisions made and making things happen. Overall, we tend to depict this in terms of ‘ever-increasing complexity’.

And all this leads to exactly the scenario depicted in the first sentence of the synopsis – it causes managers to want to act fast, project control (even when they don’t have any), rely on coercion, and defuse tension at any cost. As the article points out, this is not a scenario that generates good or sustainable negotiated agreements or relationships – which is why so many of them yield disappointing results.

What do you think? Does the scenario depicted in ‘Extreme Negotiations’ strike a chord with you?

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