Negotiation 101: Grow the Pie

Lessons from Getting to Yes on how “growing the pie” helps bypass the pitfalls of distributive bargaining and make negotiations turn out better for all

Approaching a high-stakes negotiation can feel like preparing for battle. We arm ourselves with logic, pathos, data, and even threats to fight for our share.

But, more often than most of us realize, negotiations don’t have to be adversarial “us vs. them” encounters. Though the impulse to approach the table clinging ferociously to your piece of the pie is strong—Fisher and Ury claim it’s often unnecessary, and even counter productive.

The first step to getting past the impulse is to let go of the notion that every gain for “them” is a loss for “us,” something researchers term the distributive mindset. Some negotiations are inherently distributive—that is, the resource being divided is finite and fundamentally un-shareable.

But Fisher and Ury suggest that efforts to “grow the pie,” help negotiations turn out better for all involved.

Here are some ways to try:

  • Capitalize on complements. Assign concrete values/weights to each issue from your own perspective and take a shot at the same from the other party’s point of view. Complementary issues (really important to the other party, less so for you) allow you to make generous concessions and encourage reciprocity.
  • Bring more to the table. Look for something of potential value to your negotiation partner that you could offer at little cost to yourself. Offering un-asked-for value can create powerful goodwill and swing things your way on the more controversial issues.
  • Present packages. To avoid the trap of battling it out issue-by-issue, take the time to craft several potentially agreeable resolutions in advance. These sets should highlight trade-offs and push the other party to decide what’s most important and let go of less critical issues.

Collaborative Authorship as Negotiation

The pies de resistance of collaborative authorship in the online world today is, of course, Wikipedia. As would be expected, the behemoth is perhaps the best source of examples that decry the pitfalls of collaborative authorship; viscious edit-wars, discussion and talk pages that could make one ashamed to be a [fill in the blank; Cyprenian…democrat…MC Hammer fan], and plenty of just plain bad writing [though, truth be told, I spent 20 minutes looking for an example to link here and, well, failed to find one. Feel free to help me fill in this rather egregious omission].

On the other hand, Wikipedia also provides compelling examples of all the touted benefits of collaborative authorship; the challenged assumptions and resultant mind-broadening preserved forever in the edit logs, the synergistic effect on the writing itself [all articles are arguably better than they were on first up-load,] and as Jon Murray observed during his ground-breaking Murder, Madness and Mayhem project, argumentation, communication and interpersonal skills necessary to negotiate with the public sphere in this manner.

Collaborative authorship is truly a negotiation process; a complex and elegant one at that. As in any business or personal negotiation:

  • Coming in unprepared is the surest way to guarantee unsatisfactory results.
  • Understanding the interests and priorities of the other side is almost as important as understanding your own.
  • Interests are more important than positions; every interest could be satisfied by multiple different positions.
  • The pie is seldom really fixed. Shared or complimentary interests can create a bargaining zone even where there isn’t one.
  • Playing hardball is usually both painful and ineffective. Escalation and emotions usually just back you into a corner.
  • Making proposals and asking for proposals moves negotiations forward. Not arguing over positions.
  • Developing your BATNA gives you power.
  • Concessions are the exchange currency of negotiation; they can and should be used to communicate.
  • A refusal to share information limits your potential for influence.
  • A little humility goes a long way: asking for specific advice can turn an adversary into an idea [and therefore compromise] generating partner.

As in so many other cases [“underground” scientific reasoning in video game strategy, for example] it seems that in order to maximize the benefit of these natural processes, and make them more likely to be generalized/transferred to other potential real-world applications, the connections need to be made explicit. Students with fluency in a language that allowed them to strategize, practical experience applying those strategies and frameworks for analyzing the results of these “negotiations” would be well-prepared indeed for some of the most trying and potentially rewarding “collaborative authorship” experiences of life.

Why Doesn’t Win-Win Feel Like Winning?

Our first negotiation exercise for MBA631 was pretty simple. I was selling a biomedical manufacturing plant, she wanted to buy it.

In the end, it turns out that McKensie and almost exactly split the difference between the next best case for each of us. $4M more than I could have gotten otherwise, $4M less than the most she could pay.

Perfect solution, right? Best of both worlds for both of us, right? No hard tactics, no manipulation, nobody was taken advantage of.

So, why am I still trying to convince myself?