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Collaboration begins at home

April 1, 2014

There is frequent debate about who to blame for the lack of cooperation between buyers and sellers. Dealmakers and negotiators are almost universal in their theoretical support for ‘win-win’ relationships, yet in practice they are achieved far too rarely.

IACCM’s annual study on the state of negotiations consistently identifies two major causes. Top of the list is ‘resistance by the other side’, but close behind comes ‘resistance within my own organization’.

If we cannot collaborate internally, it is hardly surprising that we struggle to do so externally. Indeed, those internal divisions are often only too evident. They range from disagreement between members of the negotiating team, to inability to make commitments in a timely manner, to inconsistent or withdrawn positions. Such behavior is scarcely likely to build confidence on the other side and understandably leads them to take protective measures.

By failing to address internal cooperation, businesses lose in a number of ways. Obviously they are harder to do business with and therefore lose value opportunities. But they also create a culture of adversarialism or avoidance which makes a change of style almost impossible to achieve. Rather than expanding knowledge and understanding alternative viewpoints, staff in these businesses tend to become entrenched in their position and are more inclined to blame others for their failings.

Making a start on improvement is not that difficult. It can begin within a single function. For example, the Law Department within several IACCM members has had its buy-side and sell-side attorneys ‘negotiate’ their contracts with each other. The polarity of their respective positions becomes hard to defend in such an environment and each emerges with a more enlightened view. In most cases, they finish up with revised terms and conditions that make them more attractive as a trading partner.

But going beyond this, in larger companies, the barriers between Procurement and Sales Contracting personnel are typically even higher. They rarely speak with each other and, when they do, it is often to trade insults. If only they worked together and instead traded skills and knowledge, how much more effective both could be when dealing externally. Good negotiation training does not have to be expensive; it truly can begin by practicing internally and expanding viewpoints in a safe environment. 

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