We were working with a client recently who asked us, “How do I get started with this negotiation?” She was probably asking what her first move at the negotiating table should be. But we answered with another question: “Have you thought about relationships?”
Most people preparing for negotiation are careful to figure out their own position. They may even list as many options as they can imagine and evaluate the pros and cons of those options. Some negotiators take the time to think about the interests and options of the other parties in the dispute. But few ask themselves whether or not the relationship they have with the other parties is, in itself, a value that could be enhanced or reduced by the current negotiation.
Asking yourself about relationships at the beginning can give you some powerful tools. If the relationships are not important to you–or if they are not important to one or more of the other parties–you can tell right away that the bargaining is likely to be very difficult. Negotiating when relationships are not important often focuses on winning at any cost rather than building the best possible solution.
If your relationship with other parties is something you want to preserve, then winner-take-all negotiation may not be the best strategy.
How can you tell if your relationship with another negotiating party is important to you. We usually tell clients to ask themselves two simple questions:
1. Will you have to negotiate with this same party again? Sometimes we are negotiating with the representative of one of the parties who gets under our skin or is difficult to deal with. In that situation, we may not want to negotiate with that person again. But we may have to. Or, no matter who represents that party, we know we will be negotiating with the same organization in the future. One way or the other, the relationship is probably important if you will be negotiating with them again then.
2. Will your negotiations with this party affect on your relationships with other parties? Almost all of the negotiations we see involve more than two parties. Either there are several parties in the dispute or there are parties who will be affected by the results of the dispute. For example, an organization that is not part of the current conflict, might be expecting to negotiate with you next. They may be watching how you relate to the current parties to decide how to relate to you in the future.
Relationships are valuable assets in negotiation. A good relationship gives the parties a better ability to create good solutions.
Berton Lee Lamb