Thanks to Allston's Emerald Necklace Martial Arts and Brighton-based Vantage Partners (a consulting firm spin-off of the Harvard Negotiation Project) for the free negotiation workshop that they gave last month. We spent the evening learning and talking about theory and practice of communicating and negotiating and received free copies of two books, Getting to Yes and Difficult Conversations. The idea that has been often in my mind since the class is that good negotiation should produce a fair outcome that maximizes the total benefit received by all parties. Key aspects of negotiation include discussion of all parties needs, concerns, desires, hopes, and fears, followed by joint brainstorming to uncover multiple possible options for the outcome of the negotiation.
Too often it seems like we assume that the benefit of one group must come at the expense of the other - the better it is for you, the worse it is for me. This is like the graph on the left where the outcome is a zero-sum game. For each bit of improvement that you get I lose an equal amount (and vice-versa).
But a better approach can yield a more mutually beneficial curve like the one in the middle. Maybe even in some cases we could strive for the right-hand graph, where an improvement for one group has no negative effect on the other. For any of this to be possible, everyone involved must be willing to actually negotiate in good faith, something that doesn't always seem to happen as much as it could.