‘Never Split The Difference’ is the title of Chris Voss’s exceptional book on negotiation. Chris was the FBI’s chief hostage negotiator and he knows a thing or two about high stakes negotiation. For most of us, the stakes are much lower. We don’t have the lives of hostages balancing on the outcome of our negotiations. We are also much less likely to be in a win/lose situation. If I am buying a car, I want to win and I don’t care if the salesperson loses. I won’t see them again and I don’t have a relationship to maintain.
Negotiation at work
At work within an organization, negotiation is usually different. Unlike Chris’s book, we usually do end up having to split the difference. We have to find a compromise. At least that is how it seems. Let’s say we are excellent negotiators and usually end up winning, and our department gets the lion’s share of the resources. While that may feel good, our peers are likely to resent and undermine us. So win/lose isn’t a good outcome, which leads us to the other option compromise.
On the surface, compromising seems like a good outcome. Both parties are somewhat happy and conflict has been avoided. Neither loses, and neither wins. Both end up with enough to feel that they won something, but most needs remain unmet. In reality, this isn’t a good outcome. We end up with mediocrity and neither party should be happy.
A third option
So what’s the alternative? There is a third option, let’s call it brave negotiation. The objective is not to compromise but to intensely negotiate to create an outcome where our combined needs are met. When I say intense, I mean to explore every angle, to look under every rock to try to uncover ways to meet our combined needs. This means challenging what we believe is possible. It means being open to share what we truly care about and to seek that from the other party. It is not about holding our cards close to our chest, it requires the opposite. In short we need to drop our armor and trust each other to arrive at the best possible mutual option.
In practice, this is very difficult. We risk being taken advantage of by a partner who takes what we are offering and gives us nothing in return. The alternative is to continue playing the win/lose game or seeking to compromise. Neither are good options, so perhaps now is the time for brave leadership to seek a different option. A win:win.