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The Organization as Negotiator
Adrian Borbély and Andrea Caputo
Editors’ Note: The authors discuss the surprising shortage of research on how organizations negotiate or plan to negotiate, when the work is considered on a broader than individual level. They contrast this with evidence that certain organizations have profited enormously, and even become dominant players in their markets, largely by adopting and enforcing one consistent style and approach to negotiation, one which supports in every detail the organization’s overall strategy. They argue that building on this evidence represents a potentially huge strategic opportunity for organizations which have not yet tackled consistency of purpose and of execution across all of their relationships with suppliers, employees and other stakeholders. They note, however, that the results of such consistency are not always attractive to the outside observer.
Most of the literature on business negotiation (and the largest part of this volume) focuses on how individuals negotiate, how they prepare, whether they negotiate individually or in teams, and how they act and interact at the negotiating table. A deep understanding of those human behavior processes is indeed crucial for a sound comprehension of negotiation. However, the larger picture of negotiations taking place within and around an organization can be lost if we focus too much attention on fine detail. We attempt to provide an overview of that picture in this chapter.
Quite often, during negotiation courses and trainings, top executives ask, “How do I make my business better at negotiating?” Accordingly, we hope with this chapter to construct a coherent response to this kind of question, which arises from the “real” world and which the academic literature has not yet answered. Indeed, we will question the motto that “organizations do not negotiate but individuals do,” instead arguing that negotiation can and should be considered as a capability at the organizational level.
The usual response to that question is given as: “train your key personnel, those people directly involved with negotiation.” Since negotiation training and continuing negotiation practice offer a nearly unlimited learning curve to mindful individuals, further coaching may be suggested, in order to translate classroom skills into the field. However, the initial question calls for a more insightful answer, which requires an integrated perspective that would fill the disciplinary gap between negotiation and management as we know it.
Acknowledging Different Perspectives on Negotiation
We opt for a wide definition of negotiation that encompasses all forms of joint human decisions (Zartman 1977), which include the obvious, visible negotiations (sales and purchasing, collective and individual employment relations, etc.) as well as the more ordinary, everyday negotiations that occupy most of every manager’s time in every organization.
Broadly speaking, research has taken two main approaches to the study of negotiation (Stimec 2014). Currently, the most widely-used one is the micro-level, or behavioral one, which looks, usually through the prism of organizational psychology, at the human interactions at and around the negotiation table, with little concern for what is being negotiated. A second approach, the contextual one, focuses on particular types of negotiations and their specific contingencies. The problem, however, is that the specifics of the behavioral approach are taken as a given, a sort of black box, for the contextual approach—and vice versa. This has led to a plea for a third approach, which would cover both the behavioral and the contextual aspects of negotiation. Such an “integrated” approach has been suggested by William Zartman (1988) and combines behaviors and processes in the context of specific negotiations; to serve its promises, this approach relies mostly on case studies from the geopolitical arena. Although its characteristics would easily allow for an application to business contexts, this has not yet happened; Zartman’s approach has received limited attention from those studying organizational or business negotiations.
Our contribution aims to look, from a theoretical and methodological standpoint, at what such an integrated approach in organizational set....
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