The art of negotiation--reaching a mutually satisfactory solution.The central issue of the art of negotiation is how to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. If we are talking about a formal negotiation, such as state to state or management to labor, a problem or issue which predisposes the various parties to distrust or even hostility almost always exists at the beginning of the negotiation. How do you move from that relationship to a solution which fully satisfies all parties?
Why is this problem? If a solution exists which is better for all parties, all parties should naturally want it. If that is true, then negotiation should be easy. The 'Art of Negotiation' would be no more than a set of methodologies which help all the parties find all the possible solutions which are better for everyone, and then a set of methods to help choose one of those. In reality, however, many, if not most formal negotiations fail. Even those which succeed are seen as difficult and may require multiple attempts. I suggest that the primary problem is one of mind-set. Many individuals involved in negotiations do not understand the essence of negotiations, and they approach the process with an attitude, a mind-set, which predisposes them to fail.
In this paper, I will begin by explaining the necessary mind-set, noting the primary reasons why people involved in negotiations tend to have an inappropriate mind-set. I will then, through an extended metaphor, show how those individuals may be able to accept the necessary point of view. Finally, I will then explain some elements of the process by which those with the appropriate mind-set may be able to discover a solution which will be mutually satisfactory.
Why Do People Approach Negotiations Poorly?
Consider that almost every negotiation occurs because there is seen to be a problem between the parties which requires a solution. When labor and management negotiate, each side perceives the other as wanting too much at the own expense. When suppliers and purchasers negotiate, it is because one side thinks the supplier is charging too much, and the other side thinks the buyer is unwilling to pay a fair price. When countries negotiate, it is often about a dispute which is long-standing. The individuals in all of these cases come to the table seeing the other side as an adversary, and their desire (and often their instruction from superiors) is to win--to reach a solution which is favorable to their side at the expense of the other side. That attitude is perfectly understandable, but is almost guaranteed to make the negotiation fail, because it is contrary to the essence of negotiation.
Anyone can reach a solution in any negotiation. All you have to do is lie a little, cross your fingers behind your back, and sign a piece of paper. But that "solution" is worth no more than the cost of the paper it is printed on. Unless you (and each party to the agreement) believe that the solution you have reached satisfies all your needs (and at least some of your wants), you will ignore it as soon as you leave the room and will likely abrogate it as soon as everyone gets home. At minimum, unless you (and each party) really believe it is fully satisfactory, you will be unable to persuade your bosses (political superiors, the electorate, the owners or union members) back home. Even if at first it appears good on the surface, either you or the other party will abandon it as soon as either of you realize you are better off without it.
The only enforcement of the terms of a negotiated agreement is the mutual desire of the parties to maintain the new relationship reached through the negotiation. The "solution" you might reach is no solution at all unless all parties want it because they truly believe it is better for them than the previous relationship they had. That is the essence of negotiation, and that is why the word "mutually" is the most important word in any negotiation.
Even the word "solution" is incorrect. Yes, almost every negotiation is about a specific issue or issues, which must be taken care of--but those issues are not the core of the negotiation. Every negotiation, regardless of the issues presented, is a process which uses those issues to formulate a new relationship between the parties. The new relationship is the purpose, goal, and fundamentally important element of the negotiation--the issues are merely the means by which you establish that new relationship. The word 'solution' merely relates to the issues, and you do not want to 'solve' a relationship, you want to establish it. Let us, therefore, restate the question.
The Art of Negotiation Establishing a Mutually Satisfying New Relationship
The art of negotiation is the mutual process by which two or more parties find a new relationship which satisfies all their current needs (and at least some of their wants)--a relationship which for all parties is preferable to the old relationship--and agree to try it out.
The essence of a relationship is that it is on-going and long term, rather than a one-time thing. The issues may be one-time issues, but they are, I repeat, merely the means of establishing, through negotiations, a new and preferable relationship. A preferable relationship does not, necessarily, mean a warm and friendly relationship. If you are currently in a state of war, a hostile truce may be the new relationship, and both sides may truly prefer that. If you currently have a hostile relationship, the new relationship may be one of serious dislike, but if that is preferable--both to you and to all the other parties, the negotiation was a success. Ideally, you hope through negotiations to develop a positive relationship, but that may take both time and a number of stages--each reached through a new negotiation. The better the relationship you achieve, the better the negotiations, but you often have to overcome a history of distrust which may make a strongly positive relationship impossible in a single step. All that is necessary in a successful negotiation is that the new relationship be preferred by all parties to the existing one.
What Is a Relationship?
I am using the word relationship to describe the basic pattern of behavior that each party expects from the other. That pattern may be of enemy, of rival, of competitor, of stranger, of limited or broad partnership, of friendship, of kinship, of alliance or even of love. For each of those types of relationships, we can picture how the other will act or react in a broad variety of situations. The purpose of a negotiation is, through discussion of and resolution of specific issues, to move from one relationship to another. This process is the same regardless of the setting. Businessmen negotiate a change from an arms-length relationship to partnership. Young men and young women negotiate a change from (attractive) strangers to friends and sometimes to marriage partners. Countries negotiate a change from neighbors to allies. All use the same process--negotiating the outcome of specific issues in order to become closer to the other and move into a preferred relationship. But in every one of these cases, both parties (all parties) must agree that the new relationship is truly preferred. If anyone doesn't want to change, they are free to say 'no.' One party cannot unilaterally change a relationship--or at least not for the better. The other businessman may prefer to remain separate, and say no to a partnership. A young woman may say, "Let's just remain friends." A country may say they like things just as they are, and say no to an alliance. A successful negotiation is one in which the process succeeds in convincing all parties that a change in relationship is preferable to what currently exists. This means that the primary job of a negotiator is to ensure that any offer (either on the specific issues or on the change in relationship) is both satisfactory to the other party and is seen, convincingly, by the other party as preferable to the status quo.
Negotiation and Bargaining
When asked, most people are likely to say that they are not negotiators, but to acknowledge that they are experienced bargainers. This perception is, in fact, false, but people see negotiation as a difficult, esoteric and specialized skill, while bargaining is a normal part of life. Thus, when these people participate in a negotiation, they tend to use the skills they have developed as bargainers, not realizing that the two processes, while outwardly similar, are very different, and largely opposed processes. Bargaining is about winning. You start bargaining knowing the maximum you are willing to pay. You want a kilo of cheese/ a repair job on your automobile/ a sale of your merchandise at the best possible price, knowing that any increase for you is a loss for the other person. That one-time action is satisfactory for both parties--one obtains an item for an acceptable price, the other obtains an acceptable price for the product--and each side competes with the other to win within those acceptable limits. Like negotiation, the parties involved are the only enforcers--a buyer or a seller can always say no. But neither party is concerned about the needs or wants of the other. They are engaged in a competition, just as sports teams, courtroom lawyers and contestants are engaged in competition, and their pleasure or unhappiness relates to whether or not they won over the other party. In contrast, a negotiation--while it may use an issue such as a purchase as the frame--is basically little concerned with the specific issue, because the parties are trying to establish a better long-term relationship with each other, and have to be primarily concerned with persuading the other side that they will win if they accept the proposal. For example, a businessman seeking a long-term customer may make an initial sale at a loss (e.g., give a free sample) because the price of the sample is unimportant if he succeeds in winning a loyal customer. A bargainer wants to win for himself, to better the other; a negotiator wants the other side to win and to recognize that they have won so that they will want the new relationship (which is also a positive for the negotiator.) Therefore, a bargainer should be kept away from a negotiating table.
This simple concept is essential to the art of negotiation, but for many people, it is difficult to accept. In negotiation, the primary task and the goal of the negotiator is to make the other party satisfied. Of course, the negotiator must work within the limits of the real needs of his side, but there is normally a substantial range of solutions which will meet those needs. The negotiator's focus is and must be to find the solution or set of solutions which will make the other party happy (while meeting the needs of his party) and to use that solution to move the two parties into a mutually preferable relationship.
([c] 2011 David C. McGaffey, Skopje)
Negotiation as Courtship
I noted above that it is false to think that most people are not experienced in negotiation. People negotiate all the time--they just do not think of it as negotiation. When a teenage daughter, brand new driver's license clutched her hands, asks her father for the keys to the car, what follows is a negotiation, with the daughter hoping to move toward a new, more adult, relationship, and the father trying, with love, to keep his daughter safe while she becomes an adult. When a housewife engages in friendly conversation with a market vendor, hoping to establish a new relationship as a favored customer, that is a negotiation. We are all expert negotiators, but we are not accustomed to using the skills we have learned in such experiences in a formal exchange with the name 'Negotiation.' One type of negotiation that all of us have engaged in, often repeatedly, is courtship--the process by which two people of the opposite sex move their relationship from strangers to acquaintances to friends to boy/girlfriends, and finally, for most of us, to marriage partners. The following extended metaphor will attempt to show how the skills we use in our interpersonal relationships can and should be applied to all levels of negotiation--even to formal dispute negotiations between countries.
Imagine a high school, filled with adolescents of both sexes, each one privately unsure and uncertain, but publicly trying to look strong and brave and boastful. There is a young man at the school, (let us call him "Mac") recently transferred from elsewhere, whose fondest wish is to be accepted by the others, and in particular to become a member of a couple of the prestigious clubs at the school. Also at the school is a popular, beautiful girl named Helen. For reasons which are always inexplicable, Mac has come to feel that Helen must be a part of his future. He wants to get closer to her, and maybe in his daydreams imagines something even beyond friendship. Unfortunately, Mac and Helen have a history. When he arrived at the school, Mac did something--the exact thing doesn't matter--which angered Helen. She started to call him names, and got all of her friends to call him names. Since she is a popular girl, a member of all the clubs, it seems that Mac now seems to have little chance to join any of the clubs. Poor Mac!
If he wants to be accepted, and if he hopes to become closer to Helen, he has to do something to change her perception of him, and to persuade her she wants to become closer to him. If she does that, she (and her friends) will stop calling Mac names, and his chances of being accepted by the clubs will become much greater. What is he to do?
First, he needs to figure out what he really needs, as opposed to what he wants. This can be difficult for an adolescent, because his wants are urgent, confused, and endless. It is, however difficult, necessary. There is an old saying, "If you don't know where you are going, chances are you will not get there." So we will leave Mac to his figuring for a moment, and then assume that he has successfully defined his needs, as membership in the clubs and a better relationship with Helen (not necessarily a warm one, though he can wish). The new relationship with Helen must be at minimum sufficient that she will stop blocking his membership in the clubs.
If he directly approaches Helen and says, "Let's be friends", she will probably laugh at him. She is perfectly satisfied with the current situation--she has lots of friends, and is sure that she doesn't need Mac. Before he approaches her, he needs to figure what she needs, and find some need of hers that he can help supply. That is even more difficult--because Helen is also an adolescent, probably has never taken the time to sort out her needs from her wants, and Mac can't read her mind. Mac needs to spend the time and effort finding something she needs that he can help supply. How does he do that? Probably he would start by approaching his and her acquaintances, asking them to tell him everything they know about her. Then he would speak to her enemies--every popular girl in high school has enemies--and again ask them to tell him everything they know about her. By this time, she will have been told that he is asking everyone about her, and that he obviously wants to get to know her better. At minimum, this might make here curious about him, which is a good beginning. This, if it is properly done, will take time and care. If, however, he really needs to become closer to her, he will take the time--and only approach her when he has something to offer which she will be interested in. She might be terrible at math, for example, while he is an 'A' student. He might offer to tutor some friend of hers, so that she hears from a trusted source that he is really good at this. She might even approach him, which would be an ideal beginning, but at minimum, if he approaches her with an offer of math tutoring, she would know it is an offer which would help her. Perhaps he would find that she has been borrowing from all her friends, and that they are beginning to become uncomfortable. If he could think of some enjoyable way she could start earning money, with his assistance, he could present it to her as a way she could build the confidence of her friends that she will eventually repay her debts. Whatever it is, if he finds a way to satisfy one or more of her real needs, he will be in a good position to begin the conversation which could lead to an improved relationship. There is nothing about this which guarantees success. Everyone who has been in high school has memories of failed attempts to attract a boyfriend/girlfriend. This method, however, increases the odds of a "mutually satisfactory solution."
I will end the metaphor here. I ask the readers to examine their own memories, and to think about whether this approach to a personal negotiation does or does not appear likelier to achieve success than, for example, showing off, or pretending to like someone else, or any of the other approaches common in high school. Finally, I assert that whatever is true about the high school romance is true at every level of negotiation, including disputes between countries. Obviously, I chose the names Mac & Helen to represent The Republic of Macedonia & Greece. I strongly suggest that the method I suggested for Mac is also the approach I suggest for Macedonia.
If negotiators have the appropriate mind-set, then there are formal elements of negotiation methodology which will increase the chances of a successful conclusion. First, the negotiators (and their superiors) must understand the real negotiation time-line.
A negotiation does not begin when two parties sit down at a table, and does not end when an agreement is reached. About 70% of the measurable time of a negotiation must be spent in preparation. Preparation includes determining your own real needs, and getting the various factions and power-centers on your own side to agree that these are the real needs. The most time, however, must be spent studying and coming to understand the other party. Like Mac and Helen, you must understand enough about the other party to know what at least some of their real needs are, and figure out how to present your knowledge in a way that makes them realize that, with your help, they can obtain something they really need. You need to have encyclopedic knowledge of your mutual history, focusing especially on points likely to cause tempers to flare, and other points which are likely to make the other party realize that cooperation is not only possible, but could be beneficial. You need to have similar knowledge of the economics of both sides, so that you can look for synergies which could benefit both parties. You need to know the personalities involved--both political power centers and the likely negotiators for the other party. You have to understand the biases, thinking style, and personal history of each individual who has significant influence on the negotiations. You also need to understand the factions and power centers that do not now have a role in the negotiations, but could have--such as the media, business interests, religious centers, or regional groups with regional concerns. You need to know the specific history of every previous exchange on the specific issues you will be negotiating. There will have to come a point when you declare that you are ready, but in negotiations, surprises tend to be disastrous, so knowledge is power. Most importantly, you must build your team, ensuring that every member (to the extent possible) shares a desire for a successful outcome, and the understanding that this can be achieved only if you are able to propose something which the other side prefers to the status quo. Every member of the team must appreciate that it is only the desire of the parties involved to change their relationship that ensures a successful outcome, and that their job is to make the other side want the change. Given what I have said at the beginning of this paper, it will take time to build an integrated team with this kind of shared vision.
With good preparation, the active negotiating phase should take a relatively short time. Some of that time will be spent identifying members of the other team with an inappropriate mind-set, and trying to educate them about the true nature of negotiation. Much or most of the active negotiation will take place away from the table--at social occasions, in the halls, or through third parties. The formal talks will be filled with statements intended for outside audiences, and with the ratification of agreements already reached. A curious phenomenon will occur in a successful negotiation. The two teams, which began as almost opponents, will--when they realize that they have built the basic framework of a successful agreement--become a single team, dedicated to polishing the agreement into a form that each side can successfully defend to their political masters at home. One effect of this is that, having found a solution which satisfies needs, all participants will look for ways of adding elements which merely satisfy wants--of a particular faction, or individual, or of the party as a whole. They do this because they realize that the only guarantee of success is that everyone on each side must want the agreement to work, and so adding a sweetener to ensure a potential critic will be happy is a small price to pay.
When the agreement is reached, signed, and ratified, the longest phase of a negotiation begins--implementation. A negotiated agreement is merely words on paper, and usually refers only to the issues. The new relationship which has been achieved through agreement on these issues is, like any new relationship, a fragile shoot, and requires cultivation, watering and continued care before it grows into a strong plant. If Helen agrees to go out with Mac, he must begin to work to ensure that she continues to enjoy his company, because she can always drop him. The need to ensure the other party is satisfied does not end with the agreement; it begins. If Mac gets Helen to agree to marry him, and decides he has no further reason to keep her happy, he will not have a successful marriage. The implementation phase stretches out to the unmeasured future. It includes the need to keep aware of new issues which might arise and require new negotiations to maintain the relationship, or to move it to a higher level.
I am not in a position to state what kind of proposal Macedonia might make to Greece to make Greece want to move to a better relationship. I have not gone through the preparation phase to determine either Macedonia's or Greece's real needs, nor to understand the history, economy, personalities or other necessary elements. As in my metaphor, however, I note that Greece is, apparently, bad at math--as the disclosure of unexpected deficits makes clear. It is also true that Greece, like Helen, has borrowed a lot of money from her friends, who are now worried about repayment. Perhaps Macedonia could find, in such truths, the seed for a proposal which would show Greece a way out of its present uncomfortable circumstances. For example, a proposal for a shared tourism campaign, focused on new clients such as Russians and other Cyrillic-speaking people, bringing new tourists to enjoy Alexandrian and Cyrillic and Roman and Ottoman ruins (in both Greece and Macedonia), using Greek airports and the railway from Greece to Belgrade as the entry points, could be presented by Greece to debtors as evidence that Greece is actively seeking new revenue sources. If it has the added advantage of renewing rail links, bringing tourists to Macedonia (with perhaps decreased on no border formalities), it would go a long way toward establishing a new relationship. From my relative ignorance, I cannot say that this proposal would work, but it is an example of how Macedonia could use its knowledge of both Macedonia and Greece to craft a proposal designed to satisfy Greek needs while also satisfying Macedonian needs. If the negotiators start with an appropriate mind-set, learn enough of Greece to accurately identify Greek needs, then, starting with specific problems, work together to identify proposals which benefit both sides, there is no reason to doubt they can craft a mutually satisfactory solution, and thus develop a mutually satisfactory relationship.
David C. McGaffey is an international consultant and professor of international relations. Currently teaches on an adjunct basis at Holy Names University, Oakland. He is associated with AUCS (Skopje), European University (Lisbon), Lesley University (Cambridge) and the University of Sierra Leone, where he developed that University's first MBA program and helped manage the Institute of Public Administration and Management. He is a specialist in negotiations, cultural analysis, organizational behavior, and strategic planning.