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The Impact of the Negotiator’s Mindset,
in Three Dimensions
Adrian Borbély & Julien Ohana
Editors’ Note: The authors argue that a negotiation cannot be understood by looking at its substance alone: a three-dimensional view that takes into equal account the negotiation’s people and its process is essential to make head or tail of it. In turn, mapping these three dimensions onto a negotiator’s mindset begins to make it possible for the negotiator to see where and how he or she might change things, rather than reflexively responding to the other’s impetus, or narrowly pursuing a set strategy that may not be working.
Beyond skills, such as preparing and strategizing, questioning and listening, dealing with different cultures, etc., how do we explain how negotiations unfold? Some of us use a process approach, detailing different steps that one needs to follow (not necessarily in a linear manner). This approach is controversial: some believe it oversimplifies what happens in the real world of negotiations; others, like us, claim it should not be completely ignored, as it offers negotiators a roadmap—granted, simplistic—to better understand the path they engage in.
This chapter does not aim to offer a process approach, but will rely on one to pool together two ideas that we are transmitting to our students during their training, in order to help them grasp how negotiation functions. First, and often contrary to their original belief, negotiation is not only about what is being negotiated (substance) but also about who negotiates (people) and how to do so (process). The three-dimension model is useful, as it helps students put into perspective the substance of their negotiation and integrate the two other elements in their negotiation preparation, practice and analysis. Second, we do not portray the distributive and integrative models as elements drawn from the context, but as two possible mindsets that negotiators may hold, which will impact their behavior on each of the three dimensions. These two ideas, taken together, enable us to isolate and classify a series of behaviors frequently observed at the negotiation table.
The Three Dimensions of Negotiation
Whether explicitly or not, negotiation teaching manuals often introduce negotiation as a combination of three dimensions: the relationship, process, and substance aspects (e.g. Mnookin, Peppet and Tulumello 2000). This categorization aims to remind students that negotiation should not be approached exclusively from the substance angle, that is, a focus solely on resolving the problem at hand. From preparation on, negotiators are encouraged not to hasten towards their arguments, counter-arguments and possible solutions, but to include two additional elements into their thought process: whom am I negotiating with, and how should we proceed? After all, negotiation is an interpersonal communication process; it is therefore essential to study the different legs of the voyage, from departure to arrival, as well as existing or potential relations between its participants. We must specify what these dimensions entail.
The substance dimension concerns the object of the negotiation, the roots of the issue (the contract to be established, or the conflict to be resolved), and all the elements that allow us to assess it. The object of the negotiation is defined by the parties themselves, sometimes through another, strategic negotiation. It is composed partly of what parties request (positions) but also of the parties’ history, needs, values, preoccupations and worries (interests), as well as what has caused the situation (origins). On the substance dimension, people need to think about a field of possible solutions that takes into account their constraints, especially their alternatives to a negotiated agreement (Fisher, Ury and Patton 2011)...
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