During the holidays, I had the privilege to witness my kids in a real-life negotiation involving many of the behaviours you can encounter during professional life. Interesting food for thought on win-win negotiations!
The starting point
They were hungry after the hiking trip of the day and quickly finished their kids’ menu. So, we gladly allowed my daughter and son to share together a third one. So far so good, because splitting a pizza in two is easy. Then comes the dessert where they realize they now can choose 3 for the 2 of them (within those kids’ menus). So, who gets an extra dessert? They can both defend themselves well and needed to figure it out without adult intervention. Obviously, the process starts with each simply claiming her/his second dessert.
Win-win negotiations deal reached
I was impressed because, quite quickly, they reached a deal:
- My son gets a second ice-cream in exchange for committing to buy, with his pocket money, the next volume of the series of books they both like.
- My daughter accepts to only get one dessert but, in turn, will also benefit from reading that volume.
Seems a good deal with mutual benefits.
When it starts to go wrong!
My son comes whispering in my ear why he believes he did a smart deal. He would have bought that volume anyway. And, his sister will naturally buy the volume thereafter that he will be able to read also. So, he didn’t really give much. The very fact of whispering in my ear made it all go wrong. That feeling of a hidden, unspoken part of a deal is very discomforting for the other party.
So often, during professional negotiations, one sees this happen after reaching a partial or complete deal:
– seemingly disproportionate satisfaction of the other party
– smiles and talks at the other side of the table, or
– merely some body language.
All the above can give a twist to what was a win-win negotiation at the start.
Then all hell broke loose!
My daughter started to doubt. My son then explained what he told me. She didn’t accept the part that she would probably buy, as she always does, another volume of that series of books they both like to read: “Ah no; then I would have given that extra dessert without a real benefit. This time, I‘ll not buy the next volume after you.” No more win-win mood.
My son, seeing that the assumptions for his side of the deal didn’t stand anymore, tried to withdraw from it. He offered the extra dessert to me to balance the situation.
My daughter didn’t agree that he could withdraw from buying that book.
And it went on like this for quite a while. Much longer than reaching the initial deal and without creation of value. Both re-interpreted the original deal: no clear agreement; only verbal agreement with no proof; no right to withdraw/terminate the agreement, etc. Very similar to real life contract disputes.
At the end, even with the good news of an extra dessert to be shared/allocated, they both felt unhappy and had gained nothing out of fear of the other side benefiting more. No more value created by either part of the negotiation. Each one looking to avoid that the other side would benefit up to the point of preferring a lose-lose situation (at the risk of being punished for quarrelling at the restaurant table).
When making a win-win negotiations deal:
- Avoid giving the impression of a hidden part. You must be able to state, out loud, the whole deal without any party feeling affected or starting to doubt.
- Win-win negotiations require genuine generosity with acceptance of good benefits for the other party. There should be no need to measure the distribution of benefits in detail.
- Make a reasonable deal quickly and then move on. No hesitation as long as there is good value in your part of the deal.
Think about your own negotiation practice. Many negotiators end up in situations like the one described above. Reflection on the dynamics of a negotiation is essential to make you better at it. Get coaching if it can make you a better professional. Win-win negotiations are essential if you want to be successful in the long run.
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