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Collaborative negotiation; getting agreements that last; supervisors and those they negotiate with on lab problems can reach an accord by focusing on basic interests, mutually satisfying options, and fair standards.

Collaborative negotiation: Getting agreements that last

Whether you realize it or not, you constantly negotiate at work. You bargain for cooperation and for support of your ideas and projects.

Take this conversation between two supervisors:

Supervisor 1: "I'm getting overloaded. Can you give me a hand?'

Supervisor 2: "I'd like to, but I'm pretty busy myself.'

Supervisor 1: "If you help me out now, I'll pitch in whenever you need me.'

Supervisor 2: "That sounds like a good deal.'

Or this conversation between a supervisor and an employee:

Supervisor: "Can you stay late?'

Technologist: "I've got an appointment right after work.'

Supervisor: "I don't want to interfere with your plans, but I'm really in a jam. Is there anything I can do to persuade you to stay?'

Technologist: "Well, I would like to take a morning off next month for errands.'

Supervisor: "Fair enough.'

Most negotiations don't go this smoothly. Usually, each side takes a position, argues for it, and stubbornly holds on instead of making quick concessions. Thus a laboratorian and a clinician might well lock horns on a matter like turnaround time:

Clinician: "I need these test results immediately.'

Chief technologist: "You'll have them right after we finish the Stats.'

Clinician: "I can't wait! Isn't there any way you can do the tests faster?'

Chief technologist: "I'm sorry, but everyone else is in a hurry to get test results, too.'

Clinician: "I need mine right away!'

Chief technologist: "I can't give you special treatment.'

This negotiation has become a contest of wills. Both parties refuse to give in; the deadlock is angry and resentful.

Professional negotiators often behave the same way. They are hard bargainers who aspire high and concede low. Tending to make large initial demands, they agree to small concessions only as necessary to keep the negotiation going. Their goal is victory over the other negotiating party, whom they regard as their adversary. They demand one-sided gains as the price for their agreement.

In the process, professional negotiators manipulate the three elements that all negotiations have in common--information, time, and power. They are stingy with information, feeling they should know more about the other party's needs than they reveal about their own. They deliberately delay or stretch out negotiation, not caring how long it takes to reach agreement. Patience and persistence will eventually win out, they believe, because most people are tied to the hidden language of the clock.

And they understand that power is based on perception. If you think you've got it, you have. So they push their weight around, make threats, insist on an inflexible position, and apply pressure.

Fortunately, professional negotiators aren't usually encountered in the laboratory. But you could face some hard bargainers who unconsciously, probably a bit awkwardly, mimic the tactics of the pros.

Recognizing the high cost of hard bargaining, you may prefer a softer approach. Perhaps you feel bound to make concessions to avoid a contest of wills. In that case, you change your position easily, yield to pressure, and accept one-sided losses to reach an agreement.

Sometimes, however, neither hard nor soft bargaining brings a satisfactory agreement--one meeting all four of the criteria by which a negotiation should be judged:

1. A mutually satisfying agreement should result, taking into account the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible.

2. Deliberations should be efficient and lead to an agreement in a reasonable amount of time. A busy laboratory cannot afford prolonged negotiation.

3. The negotiation should be amicable. It should improve, or at least not damage, the relationship between the parties.

4. The agreement should be durable. Otherwise, you will have to negotiate the same issues over and over again.

There is an alternative to the hard bargaining that professional negotiators advocate and the soft bargaining that novices may prefer. It's called collaborative negotiation. The goal is efficient, amicable, durable, and mutually satisfying agreements. Six steps make up the collaborative negotiation process:

Attack problems, not each other. A negotiation usually starts with varying degrees of mistrust and wariness. That's to be expected because all parties want the same thing--to satisfy their own interests and needs. In pursuing personal objectives and defending positions, they tend to become competitive and uncooperative.

Competition and lack of cooperation often escalate. The parties may find it difficult to communicate clearly, they may have radically different perceptions, or they may become emotional. Such "people' problems must be disentangled from the substantive problems and dealt with separately.

One effective way of doing this is to try to be relaxed, friendly, and cooperative no matter how the other person behaves. It is critical that you try to build a level of trust. Let's take another look at the negotiation between the clinician and the chief technologist when the latter is more conciliatory:

Clinician: "I need these test results immediately.'

Chief technologist: "I can understand that, and I'd like to give them to you as soon as possible. But we do have a pile of Stat orders to process.'

Clinician: "I don't care about those tests. I need my results now.'

Chief technologist: "I'm willing to give you special consideration this time, but I can't just drop everything else. If your order was in the Stat pile, I doubt that you would want the laboratory to ignore it. Why don't we go through the orders together and see what we can do?'

Set time limits. Rather than give an advantage to the more patient and persistent negotiator, who is willing to outwait the other party, decide in advance how much time with be spent on each stage of the negotiation--analysis, discussion, and settlement.

During the analysis stage, you are simply trying to diagnose the situation. You gather information, organize it, think about it, and identify the interests of all parties. In the discussion stage, you generate mutually advantageous options and the criteria for deciding which will work best.

In the settlement stage, you seek agreement on objective standards for resolving opposing interests. What are your major concerns among issues outstanding? Which options meet the most important interests of all parties? Can you decide yourselves, or do you need to call in an objective third party?

Gather essential information. Even when you do your homework, fact finding, and analysis before the negotiation, you probably still won't know what the other party really wants and is willing to settle for. You will have to find out during the negotiation by listening carefully and reading verbal and nonverbal cues.

Many of us tend to skimp on the analysis, limit the discussion, and plunge prematurely into the settlement. This inevitably leads to hardening of positions and to deadlocks.

Confront power tactics. If you feel pressured during the negotiation to accept a one-sided agreement, speak up. Tell the other side that you know they are trying to overpower you and that it won't lead to an agreement you can accept. That's what this section head does in an exchange with the laboratory manager:

Laboratory manager: "I expect your section to handle the extra workload without additional staff because I just don't have the budget. Everybody is going to have to work harder.'

Section head: "I realize you would like me to agree and I feel the pressure to do so, but I don't think that will solve the problem.'

Participate in mutual problem solving. Focus on interests, not positions. A negotiating position often obscures what you really want. Instead, explore possible solutions that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests. The objective of the mutual problem-solving effort should be to meet needs--at least minimal needs. We can see how as the laboratory manager and section head continue their talk:

Laboratory manager: "Well, what do you think will solve the problem?'

Section head: "I think we should look at the number of tests, estimate the amount of time necessary to run them, and assess the capacity of our personnel. Then you can decide if working harder is the solution.'

Laboratory manager: "But I told you I don't have the budget for more staff.'

Section head: "That may be so, but our capacity is limited. Let's think about solutions that make the most efficient use of what we have available.'

Concentrate on objective criteria. The outcome of a negotiation should be determined by some type of fair standard--expert opinion, custom, or mediation, for example. By discussing such criteria, rather than what the parties are willing or unwilling to do, neither side has to "give in' to the other. Both can defer to a fair solution. That's how the laboratory manager and section head finally solved their problem:

Laboratory manager: "Maybe we could lease new equipment, change procedures, or increase test turnaround time.'

Section head: "All of those options are worth exploring, but we may still find that hiring more technologists is the only feasible solution. Could we at least agree to present the facts and our recommendations to hospital administration and see what they have to say?'

In this manner of focusing on basic interests, mutually satisfying options, and fair standards, collaborative negotiation enables you to reach a durable and amicable agreement.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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