If you believe in win-win and win-lose negotiation, buy yourself a cat 5

Friday, July 10, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

cats-heatwave-rich-400x270In 1935, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger suggested a thought experiment in which a cat was locked in a box with a Geiger, a hammer and a vial of poison. After one hour the cat was deemed both dead and alive as there was no way of knowing if the Geiger had triggered the hammer, which in turn would have broken the vial and released the poison to kill the cat. The both dead and alive cat represents the win-lose negotiation strategy. You kill someone that you actually need to be alive to in order to work with. Briefly said, you want them both dead and alive.

Indeed, ever since Fisher and Ury, two reputed members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, came up with the Interest-based or principled negotiation theory in their well-known book Getting to Yes in 1981, expressions such as win-win and win-lose have dominated the techniques and understanding of negotiation in scientific publications as well as in the popular press.

But if win-win became the universal rule to negotiation, why would people still get it wrong with negotiation, and even worse with international negotiation? My answer: because there is no such outcome to a negotiation as win-win or win-lose.

Actually negotiation is not about winning or losing. These terms are appropriate for competitions, not for deals. In any case, it is just impossible to have more than one winner. The term win implies defeat. To win you should defeat someone else. And as win-lose is not politically correct, everyone preaches win-win negotiation outcomes, while the goal is still to win that negotiation over the others.

If so many international negotiations end up with the need of arbitration and mediation it is precisely because negotiators believe they need to win. You don’t win a negotiation, you succeed it. To be successful, a negotiation should lead to a deal. Deal means cooperation, not competition. When you negotiate, you need to obtain something you don’t have from the other sides; not to win over them. If a deal is an agreement, then it doesn’t make sense to say that we should win the negotiation to get a deal. There are no winners in a deal, just associates.

Successful negotiation is not the one you win; it is the one in which you get what you need from others while giving them what they need from you. If you try to win, you will always try to get more than what you need and give less than what you could have given. You are in a competition, not in a collaboration.

After so many years listening, reading and facing people preaching win-win negotiations, I decided to coin the term Sustainable Negotiation.

I define Sustainable Negotiation as the one based on long term collaboration. Long term means that signing a deal is not the end of a negotiation. Negotiation is a constant and ever evolving process. It never ends. As long as we work with the people we signed that deal with, we keep negotiating every day at every step of the actions taken to fulfill that deal.

Sustainable negotiators understand that there is no end to a negotiation. It will last for as long as we work together. That is why it is impossible to win or to lose. There is an agreement about working together and the terms of this collaboration are constantly negotiated all the way, until the day we decide not to work together anymore, for whatever0 reason that might be.

So, do you still believe that a cat can be both dead and alive?