When faced with difficult negotiations we tend to play to our strengths.
Our experience tells us “this has worked before, let’s try it again” –sometimes without our even realising it. That’s how experience and learning is supposed to work right? So we don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time we meet a challenge?
Here’s the problem. It can make us predictable and open to exploitation.
A tool we can use to understand and address this problem is a two-dimensional framework of conflict management called the Dual Concerns Model.
Originally proposed by Dean Pruitt, Jeffrey Rubin and S.H. Kim, the model postulates that when we find ourselves tasked with resolving a contentious issue very often our approach is defined by the level of concern we have for its participants. It can lead to the following approaches;
Those of us that are skilled at understanding the needs of others, that like to work as a team and to see all the angles before making a decision, are likely to favour a collaborative or co-operative approach.
Those of us who are goal-orientated, results driven, with a clear vision of our targeted objective – we like to adopt a competitive approach. We see the path ahead clearly, are intent on sticking to it and are ready to neutralise any potential threat.
Then there are those of us who like the quiet life. We would prefer that the contentious issue would just go away and prefer to kick that can down the road.
Enter The Negotiator
The negotiator knows that all three strategies are valid. Importantly however, the negotiator also knows that while he or she may have a natural affinity to a particular vector on these axes they have trained themselves to be able to move quickly to another.
They know when to do this and they know why.
The negotiator knows that each strategy has weaknesses that can be exploited.
Collaborators, eager to achieve a cross-party consensus, may rush to a “win-win” scenario. They may be overly receptive to meeting their opponents demands.
Challengers, intensely focussed on their own goals, might be easily manipulated. They may reveal their “negotiation pain” too readily or may miss the significance of their concessions. Their personal drive might become their undoing as their opponent avoids, prevaricates or dissembles.
Finally, the Evaders, either unwilling to act or hesitant in their ability to compete or collaborate, might find to their detriment that the negotiator has chosen the time and place of their reckoning for them.
We all face this challenge – when to compete, when to collaborate – when to avoid. When to wrap up proceedings in either consensus or compromise.
To become effective negotiators we need to re-teach our inner voice. The suggestion is that we don’t rely on our strengths from the start but use them tactically. Our value as a challenger will only be useful if we have refrained from trading behaviours when we should have been collaborating. We need to learn and re-learn how to observe, understand, speculate and postulate.
We need to watch and listen for the changes in energy and tone that signal the need for a different approach, one that best meets our strategic objectives.
Lewicki, R.J., Barry, B., Saunders, D.M., 2011. Essentials of negotiation, 5th ed. ed. McGraw-Hill/Irwin, New York.
Pruitt, D.G., 1981. Negotiation behavior, Organizational and occupational psychology. Academic Press, New York.