Principled negotiation: The way to go

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We are all experienced negotiators, arent we? Negotiation pervades every facet of our lives from negotiating with our spouses, our parents, our co-workers, our superiors, our teachers, our friends, our business partners to wage negotiations.

But are we all good at it? There are behaviours, strategies and tactics in negotiation that are more productive than others.

In 2010, 90% of the registered employment councils (NECs) reached deadlocks over wages with disputes being referred to arbitration. Why? The answer lies in the dysfunctional approach to negotiating that is common in this country.

It is called traditional or positional bargaining.
In positional bargaining, participants play a zero-sum game. Each party takes an extreme position and stubbornly holds to it.

Compromising is considered a sign of weakness. Each side puts forward its position to the other, then, once the positions are clear, the negotiation becomes a process of concession-making, whereby each side bargains with the other and compromises as little as possible to keep the negotiations going.

A fixed-pie approach is adopted. There is concealment or withholding of information, digging in, exaggeration, misrepresentation, use of bluffs, threats, manipulation, put-downs and other dirty tactics.

Preparations for positional bargaining resemble a mobilisation for war differences are heightened, villains identified, weapons honed and war paint generously applied.

The parties come to the bargaining table in full battle dress! Does this sound familiar? Such an approach only succeeds in straining and shattering the relationship between the parties. The result of this kind of negotiation, of course, is win-lose or lose-lose.

What then is the alternative negotiation strategy? Fischer, Ury and Patton in their 1991 book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In talk of interest-based or principled negotiation.
Principled negotiation is premised on four attributes:

Separate people from the problem

Focus on interests, not positions

Invent options for mutual gains;

Insist on using objective criteria

In principled negotiation, parties get more of what they want the expanded pie approach. They do so in a collaborative climate, where relationships are established, where needs are met and where both sides walk away as winners.

Negotiators are joint problem-solvers who seek solutions to mutual problems or issues of interest.

Relevant information is shared between the parties. In wage negotiations, such information would include economic forecasts, company financial data, industry reports, costs, and so on. Focus on pragmatism over doctrine.

Perhaps the single most important outcome of this negotiation strategy is the preservation of relationships. Obviously, relationships cannot prosper when parties enter into a competitive, all-or-nothing mode.

A story is told of two sisters who each desired the same orange. They decided to share it by splitting it in half. After each sister took half of the orange home, one sister who wanted only the juice, squeezed out the juice, drank it and threw out the peel.

The other sister, who wanted only the peel for a cake she was baking, threw out the pulp and added her half of the peel to her cake batter.

Neither sister considered expressing her true interest in the orange, but rather chose to negotiate for as much of the total orange as possible. Both sisters would have achieved a greater settlement if only they had chosen to be open and truthful about their interests in the first place!

Said Dean Allen Foster in his 1992 book Bargaining Across Borders: Good negotiating is not about outsmarting, outmanoeuvring or outmanipulating the other side.

Its not about hitting . . . (the other party). . . over the head and running off with the goodies before they know what hit them.

Its not about deception, omission or getting away with something. And most of the time, its not about one side having to give up something it needs in order for the other side to get what it wants.

If employer and employee bodies were to engage in interest-based or principled negotiation, there would be no need to resort to third parties for the resolution of wage disputes.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a good negotiator. Those appointed to the negotiating teams usually have their minds stuck in the past world of positional bargaining. They need training in negotiation skills, specifically on principled negotiation.

Nelson Mandela one of the worlds iconic figures is a great living example of how far the skill of negotiation can take you.

This remarkable legend, who most single-handedly turned the tide against apartheid, once remarked: I attach importance to dialogue, the solving problems through negotiation. It is an art which requires a great deal of vision and strength of character . . .

For those interested in taking up negotiation as a career, let them take inspiration from the words of President John F Kennedy in his inaugural address as President of the United States in 1961: Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Isaac Mazanhi is a labour analyst. He writes in his personal capacity.

He can be contacted on email: imazanhi@hotmail.com