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Reframing Your Approach for More Cooperative Negotiations

Reframing Your Approach for More Cooperative Negotiations

Article with the help of Rodrigo Malandre from The Gap Partnership

In a recent LinkedIn poll I conducted, I asked a simple question: “In your negotiations, who typically adopts a more cooperative stance?” The options were: “me” or “the other party.” Can you guess the predominant response?

I’ve posed similar questions at sales conventions, procurement gatherings, and corporate events where I’ve been invited to speak. The response distribution is consistently similar, with around 80% considering themselves as more cooperative. In this LinkedIn poll, a staggering 90% responded that they were more cooperative than their negotiation counterpart.

If 80% or more consistently perceive the other party as more competitive, something seems amiss. A balanced distribution of responses among negotiators should be closer to 50/50. Either I’m exclusively invited by companies with cooperative negotiation cultures, or individuals tend to overestimate their cooperativeness and perceive their counterparts as more competitive than they actually are. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

So, here’s a reality check: your perception of your own cooperativeness and your counterpart’s competitiveness is likely skewed (in most instances).

Why do we perceive ourselves as more cooperative than the other party?

The simplest explanation is: it’s human nature. We humans are prone to viewing things from our perspective. We have biases, we filter information, we assign intentions, and so on.

Many individuals struggle to comprehend why others reject their arguments and feel frustrated when their counterpart remains steadfast or shows no willingness to compromise. This typically occurs when one party isn’t cooperative enough and attempts to justify why things should be their way, rather than exploring alternative solutions.

Interests and Positions

One of the most intriguing aspects of negotiation is distinguishing between interests and positions. A position is a proposal or demand, such as “Payment terms will now be 90 days.” Here, 90 days is the position, but the underlying interest driving that position remains unknown. Is it a corporate policy? Are products slow to sell or be used? Are external storage costs high? Is the company trying to improve cash flow?

Understanding the interest behind a position can lead to alternative solutions that may shift the other party’s position. If we merely state, “Our policy is to pay within 30 days,” positions will clash. However, if we ask, “Can you explain why you’re requesting 90 days?” or “What is your company hoping to achieve with a 90-day term?” the conversation has more potential to progress.

Many negotiations become competitive because parties fail to understand each other’s interests, or they focus too much on positions and ignore underlying interests.

The Exchange

Another source of competitiveness is the failure to link variables. Some negotiators enter with a clear idea of what they want but little consideration of what they can concede.

Creating agreements becomes more challenging when we only have a list of demands, no matter how reasonable they may seem. Negotiation often involves giving up some things to gain others, especially when multiple variables are involved. The key is to request things of greater value to us in exchange for concessions that hold relatively higher value for the other party and lower relative cost to us.

In this sense, a cooperative negotiation isn’t about gaining everything, but about gaining more of what holds greater value for us in exchange for things that hold more value for the other party.

How to Foster Cooperation in Negotiation?

Several strategies can promote a more cooperative process for both parties:

  1. Invest Time in Preparation: Preparation is crucial. It allows us to quantify the value of each variable for both parties, envision different alternatives, consider various proposals, and evaluate what we can offer in exchange for what we want. Preparation can be a source of creativity in negotiation.
  2. Ask Questions to Understand the Other Party’s Interests: Asking various types of questions allows us to explore issues and see beyond the other party’s positions. It helps us understand interests and needs, leading to a broader view of the negotiation and avoiding getting stuck in a clash of positions.
  3. Avoid Unproductive Arguments: We must always remember that the purpose of a negotiation isn’t to convince the other party or win an argument. The goal is to reach a satisfactory agreement acceptable to both parties. We won’t achieve this with a barrage of arguments and justifications but with flexibility to explore options and proposals that allow us to move towards an agreement.
  4. Maintain a Positive Tone: If we want to generate cooperation, we need to use positive language that stimulates the trust necessary for openness to cooperation. Instead of complaining or criticizing the other party, it’s better to frame things positively, highlight the agreements being built, and maintain a proactive attitude.

In Summary

If you feel the other party doesn’t understand your reasons or is closed off, sometimes the best way forward is simply to put a proposal on the table and wait for a counterproposal. It’s about finding a solution that benefits both parties. By shifting your perspective and adopting a more cooperative approach, you can achieve better outcomes in your negotiations.

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