Let’s say you go to a meeting and find yourself sitting at a round conference table with nine other people. The moderator of the meeting says, “I will give a prize of one thousand dollars to each of the first two people who can persuade the person sitting opposite to get up, come around the table, and stand behind his or her chair.” What would you do?
Now, this might sound totally different from most of your meetings, where the biggest attempt at persuasion is usually your request that they serve yogurt along side the donuts and pastries. Or, maybe it sounds easier than having to persuade your three year old to get into his pajamas at night — and you only WISH he could be bought off with a thousand dollars! But, no matter what kind of bargaining you face at work or at home, chances are, there’s something all of us can learn from this exact challenge posed by G. Richard Shell in his book, Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People.
So back to our scenario: picture the table, the announcement, and then what you would do. How would you (quickly) persuade the person opposite you to get up and move behind you? And, what happens to the $1,000 if s/he does stand behind you? Who gets it? And how will you split it?
Negotiation frameworks advise to create value with your negotiation partner (usually thought of as your adversary) before distributing the value between you. Well, at the start of the game, neither of you have anything. So, someone has to move to create any value at all. Would you offer the person across from you $500 if s/he comes and stands behind you? This is the typical move, and it creates and distributes value simultaneously. How can you create more value in this scenario?
What assumptions are you making? Are you assuming that each pair of people can only win $1,000? Is there a way that a pair can win more than that? How? You got it! You stand up and run around the table to behind the person opposite you – a collaborative move. Instead of persuading him or her, you move. And as you move, your partner gets a flash of understanding. S/he runs over to behind your chair. Voilà! You BOTH get $1,000! Why? Because each of you are now standing behind the chair of the person opposite you at the start of the game. Instead of $1,000 total, you and your partner get $2,000. Together, you have created as much value together as you can.
Now how do you divide it? Fairness is usually paramount to people when it comes to distributing value. So, you may split it in half ($1,000 each) so you each get the same amount. Or you both may feel it would be more fair for you to get a larger portion since you came up with the idea and made the first move, say $1,200 / $800, or any of a number of combinations.
Remember this thought experiment when you go into your next negotiation. If you go in thinking of your nemesis across the table as your partner in solving the problem, you’ve changed your mindset to create an opportunity. Then, be aware of, and test, what assumptions you are making, focus on creating value together first, then distribute it based on fairness. Not only will you both get more out of the negotiation, but you yourself will have the opportunity to come out with more than if you simply had competed with the other negotiator.
Tad Mayer is a co-author of Own the Job Hunt, as well as a negotiation consultant, mediator, facilitator, trainer, and coach. He recently taught as an Adjunct Professor of negotiation at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.