We have a funny way of viewing negotiations don’t we. Most of us see it as something to be avoided because of the potential for conflict. Some of us see it as just something that just has to get done. And then there are others that see it as a battle to the death, delivering a kill strike to our victim and ultimately becoming victorious.
I think sometimes we get this romantic notion of what negotiation is. We think of it as a sword to sword battle where two brave knights meet each other in final combat. Their swords clash, injuries ensue, and ultimately a victor emerges victorious over the other. And the victorious knight stands tall over the body of the fallen and, with a final blow, finishes the duel.
It’s a romantic notion and it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of negotiation being a ‘fight to the death’ battle. But ‘fight to the death’ battles, while romantic sounding in books, are not romantic in reality. The problem with that type of competition is that someone has to die. And in negotiation when you show up and finish this way, it sometimes means that companies and careers perish.
Early in my career, I was very much of the mindset that I needed to bleed competitors dry of every drop of blood they had. I believed that negotiations were combative in nature and there was no room for collaboration. I went into negotiations not just to win, but to destroy. And while I became well known for the ability to get things that no one else could get, I hurt a lot of people in the process. Ultimately, those negotiations were failures. The company that I went to battle with always ended up getting their money back through change orders or delays, or in the worst cases, some even went out of business because they could not fill the commitments I had demanded or dictated.
But failure is a powerful teacher and I view negotiation very differently today. Negotiation can be competitive and collaborative. Negotiations don’t have to end in the death of a career or a company. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they do. But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can still compete and give it everything you have without going for the kill strike. After all is said and done, both sides should be able to exhale with a smile, and embrace knowing that they’ve put everything they can into the negotiation.
Perhaps I’m being naive to think that we can embrace after a hard fought negotiation, but I believe it’s possible.
Both sides fight hard for their interests to be met. And at the same time, in collaborative negotiations, we use negotiation skills to ensure that the other party has had their interests met too. Sometimes we even have to fight for the other side to ensure they get a deal that makes sense. It’s an interesting dichotomy at times.
But isn’t good competition is like that? Watching the Winter Olympics has reminded me of the beauty of competition and its ability to break down boundaries between competitors. Watching the fierceness of competition transform into joy and happiness as the athletes embrace each other after they cross the finish line, knowing they’ve given it everything they have. Shouldn’t good negotiation be the same way?
I know this may sound ethereal, but I believe that this is what we should be striving for. We can have fierce competition and still be collaborative. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there must be a loser in a negotiation. It doesn’t have to be that way.