In just a few days, BGI students will receive negotiation training and one-on-one negotiation sessions by special guest, Lisa Gates from SheNegotiates.com. The training, organized by Diversity and Social Justice and the Net Impact Career Development, is particularly timely as students navigate through graduation into full time careers. Lisa is a regular contributor to Forbes.com and has shared her most recent blog post for students:
“Compromise is not the goal of negotiation,” I said. “Finding your way to agreement is.”
My inquisitor—let’s call her Sara—dug her heels in and I realized our conversation was getting buried in semantics and cultural filters about the word negotiation itself.
And, of course, the term “compromise.”
Like most of us, Sara was taught that compromise is a good thing. And of course it can be. If both kids want to read the same book at the same time, one of them usually has to give it up to the other with a promise they can read it later.
But to Sara, compromise bore no relationship to making concessions and asking for reciprocity. Not because she refused to see the connection, but because she didn’t believe there was one.
To Sara, negotiation was “an argument with the goal of capitulating something to someone.”
“You know that argument you seem to have every six months about something you made an agreement about, but the issue keeps coming back like a good boomerang?” I asked.
She nodded in agreement.
“It goes like this:
I know I agreed to complete the monthly sales statistics, but it was a stupid agreement. It’s beneath my job description, I dread it, and I’m actually terrible at it.
But we agreed. And we also agreed that until we lift the hiring freeze, we wouldn’t revisit the issue
Yeah, well, I think we should re-open the conversation anyway.
I’m not talking about it.
“And round we go. We fail to listen for the need beneath all the bluster. So, naturally, the real problem never gets solved.”
So here’s what I tried to get across:
If your bargaining partner tells you that you’ll be doing the monthly statistics from here on out, and the power balance indicates you should agree without question, you may (and we women often do) make a concession without seeking any reciprocal benefit. That might make your boss is happy, but you’re going to steam in your cubicle for months.
What if instead of “compromising” —which Sara was reading as folding—you’d asked your boss a few questions? What if you brainstormed the infinite possibilities with the goal of meeting—maybe exceeding—you and your boss’s needs?
Compromise is not the goal. It’s a potential outcome, but setting your sights on compromise from the start will stifle your creativity for mutual problem solving.
So, let’s back up and take a look at the definitions:
Compromise is making a deal in which each party gives up part of their original request or demand for something different than they originally wanted. It’s a two-way transaction.
Concession is yielding a fact, a privilege or a piece of your pie. It’s a one-way transaction.
Reciprocity is responding to a positive action with another positive action.
Compromise includes concessions, but you might be conceding something you want less than you learn you can get by negotiating—by having a conversation that results in a value-creating agreement.
Let’s take a look at the circular argument we started with. Its recurrence probably has more to do with the fact that the two parties have invested no effort in expanding the pie by brainstorming possible solutions. The conversation they’ve had has been positional—I’m right and you’re wrong—and they’ve naturally responded to this defensively.
If we capitulate to a demand without asking for anything in return, or if we cave in and fail to ask questions that reveal our bargaining partner’s real needs, desires, preferences, fears or priorities, argument turns to defeat, and resentment is your constant companion.
Concessions Lead to Happier Outcomes
We know from research done in negotiation studies that people are most happy with negotiated outcomes when their bargaining partner has made concessions. And this is the case even when the research subjects get less than what they originally wanted.
That’s because we’re more satisfied when we believe we’ve been treated fairly than when we get exactly what we want. If someone says yes right away, we’re afraid we’ve left options on the table. And if someone stonewalls us, we believe they’re acting in bad faith and for malicious reasons.
So there we were. Sara on her side of the fence, and me on mine. And she said, “Hrumph. Maybe. I’ll hafta mull that over,” and I said, “While you’re mulling it over, think about what your conversations might be like without a lock down on an opinion. What about curiosity?”
Another hrumph. And a tough sell. But then again, all sells are tough when you’re selling. We both have much to learn.