Ron told me to put up my dukes. So I did. And we went at it. It was in our basement. Ron, my older brother, was 11. I was 10. My dad, a former Golden Gloves boxer, had taught us to box so we could defend ourselves.
Ron and I occasionally fought over the usual sibling rivalry issues. When conflict occurs, many, like us, instinctively battle.
Our American society has traditionally resolved personal and professional conflicts through organized battles. Our adversarial-based legal system in many conflicts assigns each side a professional fighter, a lawyer. With the judge as the ref, the jury then decides who wins and loses.
But our system today is increasingly relying on a different way to resolve conflicts. This approach isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around since Adam and Eve.
It’s used by lawyers, business partners, managers, salespeople, politicians, families and anyone who has ever been involved in a personal or professional relationship.
That way to resolve conflict? Negotiation. Everybody does it. The key question, though, is how to most effectively negotiate to get what you want. How can you most fully satisfy your interests?
Americans often instinctively take a competitive, adversarial approach to negotiations. Our society is extremely competitive. Most measure success in almost any endeavor by who wins and who loses. In fact, many approach negotiation with a mind-set that practically guarantees a battle and that winners and losers will emerge.
Roger Fisher, the Harvard Law Professor and best-selling author of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, approaches negotiation from a different perspective. He writes that non-adversarial-based conflict resolution in many instances can be far more effective that just duking it out.
While Fisher recognizes that some conflicts cry out for a competitive approach as they will inevitably lead to winners and losers, he argues that approaching most negotiations with a strictly competitive win-lose attitude may very well leave critical interests unsatisfied.
Taking a collaborative approach to these negotiations vastly increases the likelihood that both parties’ interests will be satisfied and a true win-win solution found.
Consider the following negotiation. Imagine two kids fighting over an orange. It could easily have been Ron and me growing up. Each of us desperately wants the orange, and there is only one left.
So what happens?
After the threats fly back and forth, none of which proves effective as we’re about the same size, we compromise. Each will get half.
Neither of us particularly likes this outcome, but we figure half is better than nothing. At least we salvaged our relationship by not coming to blows.
A fair resolution? Yes and no. We each got some orange. But there’s still a problem. When I walk away, I eat my half of the orange and throw away the orange peel.
Ron does the opposite. He uses the orange peel in baking a carrot cake and throws away the orange.
Half the orange went to waste. Why? Because Ron and I took a competitive, adversarial and position-based approach to this problem.
Compare this with Fisher’s interest-based approach. View the issue through a collaborative lens, Fisher would advise. Don’t take an adversarial position just because there’s only one orange.
Start the negotiation by questioning each other and fully discussing your respective interests. Exchange information. Don’t assume you know one another’s interests. Ask why you each want the orange. And keep asking until you think you’ve got all the answers. Overall, talk about interests, not positions.
If we had a truly collaborative atmosphere and took Fisher’s advice. I would have learned Ron wanted the orange peel to bake a carrot cake, and Ron would have discovered I just wanted to eat the orange. Nothing would be wasted. And we both would be fully satisfied. True win-win.
Of course, this approach requires a certain level of trust, a good working relationship, and a collaborative attitude by both parties. And its effectiveness and utility increases when the parties expect and desire a future relationship. If these factors are present, though and the parties take this approach, they will vastly increase the likelihood of generating win-win solutions.
Next time you fight with your spouse, try to sell your product to a possible customer, find yourself in a protracted dispute with your business partner, or your kids start fighting over an orange, think about win-win.
At the least, you’ll feel better about your negotiation at the end of the day. At the most, you’ll be more successful in resolving all your personal and professional disputes.
Published January 14, 1997 The Phoenix Gazette