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Listening to Transcend Competition
Brian A. Pappas
Editors’ Note: The author offers a supposedly basic tool, that of actually listening to your counterpart in a negotiation, as an answer to a supposedly basic dilemma—whether to cooperate or compete. He argues that negotiators tend to adopt one or the other as a general approach, but that neither outright competition nor excessive cooperation actually works to produce good results. A disciplined approach to active listening, he argues, is key to unlocking your latent ability to perform in the parts of negotiation with which you are less naturally comfortable. This chapter should be read in conjunction with Itzchakov and Kluger on Listening & Understanding.
The Negotiator’s Dilemma Persists
In any bargaining scenario, negotiators face the dilemma of deciding between competitive tactics designed to claim or distribute value, and cooperative tactics designed to create or integrate value (Lax and Sebenius 1986). The negotiator’s dilemma is actually not so much one of whether to compete or cooperate, but how and when to do each, as every single negotiation presents opportunities to 1) divide the existing pie, and 2) create more pie. This is nearly the entire theory of negotiation in a tidy, compact, and simplistic nutshell. Sprouting from the basic dilemma is a variety of labels, styles, and behaviors which attempt to define the essential dichotomy. Competitive tactics are commonly described as distributive, adversarial, claiming, or deceptive (Craver 1997; Sanchez 2003; Nelken 2007; Craver 2012; Apollon 2013). Cooperative tactics are assumed to be collaborative, integrative, creative, expansive, principled or problem-solving (Menkel-Meadow 1984; Macfarlane 2004; Fisher, Ury and Patton 2011; Rau, Sherman and Peppet 2006; Menkel-Meadow, Schneider and Love 2014; Cohen 2016).
The definition of dilemma is “a choice between two unsatisfactory options” (Merriam-Webster 2016), and the negotiator’s dilemma is today exactly that, presenting an oversimplified means of explaining the tension between two negotiation styles. In reality the negotiator’s dilemma inhibits core skill development in favor of styles and strategies which adjust over the course of a negotiation (Schneider and Brown 2013). Styles often belie strategies as effective negotiators may employ an approach that combines attributes of two styles to appear to be cooperative but actually be quite competitive (Williams and Craver 2007). Instead of selecting a style and identifying behaviors that define each, negotiation theory must refocus on skills like active listening that are neither inherently competitive nor cooperative (Schneider 2012).
This chapter advocates for learning skills over styles, and describes the reasons why the persistence of the dilemma is harmful to skills development. The dilemma accurately depicts the tension between attempting to compete versus cooperate, but the layers of labels and styles perpetuate the essential dilemma instead of providing context and depth for skill development. Negotiation is not simply a dilemma between compete and cooperate. The real dilemma is why negotiators are still talking about the singular, oversimplified distinction of compete versus cooperate.
The Negotiator’s Dilemma Inhibits Skills Development
More than an oversimplification of negotiation theory, the dilemma actually inhibits negotiation skills development—and in six different ways. First, the dilemma operates as a threshold choice that limits a well-rounded development of negotiation skill. In an either/or framework, negotiators make style choices. Many people are attracted to the myth of the negotiator as John Wayne, Dirty Harry, or Gordon Gekko who has tricks, tactics, and techniques that manipulate or coerce the other side into submission. Others reject these tactics as unsavory or outside of their abilities, and make conscious decisions not to compete. There is a perception that cooperating in negotiation is retreat or weakness, and this leads to an automatic aversion to gaining cooperative skills. It also leads people who naturally tend to want to be more cooperative to second-guess their instincts and to seek to over-compete in order to prove themselves. The negotiator’s dilemma provides a threshold style choice that allows competitive negotiators to reject cooperative bargaining and cooperative bargainers to reject competitive bargaining. As a...
For full contents please purchase The Negotiator’s Desk Reference.
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