Enjoying Your Work
Focus on others to improve negotiations
WHEN people have goals that require efforts of others that cannot be forced, they must enter into some form of negotiation so that the interests of the others are met.
Two types of errors in people's thinking can decrease the chances of successful negotiations.
One is ego defensiveness that causes people to think of themselves as reasonable people with worthwhile proposals. If these people run into problems during negotiations, they are likely to view their counterparts as unreasonable people with worthless proposals.
The second error is called naïve realism. Negotiations almost always take place even though no one has complete information. It is impossible, for example, to predict all possible future outcomes of proposals that are adopted today. In the absence of complete information, people make the mistake of believing that everyone thinks as they do. If others do not, it has to be because they have imperfect knowledge of the information that is readily available.
Steps can be taken to minimize the negative effects of these two errors in thinking. The University of Amsterdam's Carsten De Dreu suggests that negotiators give attention to four factors.
» The first is the relative amount of power possessed by the different parties in the negotiation.
» The second is increasing the accountability of the negotiation process. » The third is developing a cooperative rather then competitive orientation during the negotiations.
» The fourth factor is using time to the advantage of the negotiation process.
These steps work well when negotiators desire an agreement that meets the interest of all parties involved. The goal of negotiations is not to grind opponents into the dirt or to treat them "as flies to wanton boys" (King Lear).
The problem with such negotiations is that there will be a party that will label itself the winner, but the loser will not put time and energy into following though on agreements that the winner imposed.
Instead, the members of the party not treated well will drag their feet, challenge the agreements, and in general work to undermine the efforts of the so-called winner.
If all four factors are given attention during negotiations, people move from being pro-self to pro-social thinkers. That is, they integrate their own interests with those of their counterparts. Further, they engage in careful thinking that has the goal of developing proposals that allow everyone to make progress toward goal achievement.
If there is a power balance, one party cannot simply force the other to comply. If people try this, the other party has power of its own and can engage in activities such as resistance, calling in the media and giving them interesting stories, or public protest.
If there is cooperative motivation, one party does not have the goal of bragging about being the winner. Rather, the goal is proposals that both sides can point to as benefiting all parties and as giving attention to everyone's interests.
In accountability of process, negotiators have the responsibility of explaining what happened during discussions with counterparts. The people to whom they must explain the process are their constituents.
If people know they will be accountable, they are motivated to examine issues under discussion from multiple perspectives. They know they will have to stand up in front of their constituents and answer sharp questions such as, "Is the other party fully committed to following through on its concessions related to the money issues?"
Finally, time can be employed to the advantage of the negotiating parties. Mild rather than intense time pressures have advantages.
If deadlines for a decision allow little time for negotiations, then there will not be opportunities to do the hard work of addressing the many concerns of the different parties.
But if no deadlines are set, discussions can continue to meander without any pressure to move people towards decisions about negotiated proposals of benefit to all.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org