What’s more important: “winning” or getting what you want?

I negotiate every single day.

I negotiate with venues on behalf of the artists we represent; I negotiate with partners about how our relationship (financial and otherwise) will be structured; I negotiate with the artists we represent about how we will achieve our common goals; I work with prospective clients to negotiate their expectations to a level that we can deliver to; I negotiate with our staff on getting things done in a particular way (their way? My way? Another way?); and I even negotiate with myself on what should take priority at any given moment (see Jennifer’s great post on prioritizing to-do’s).

What I have found most fascinating is that in most negotiations, most people think that they are fighting for power.

“If I give in on this, I will be perceived as weak” or “If I take a friendlier tone, they will walk all over me” or conversely, “If I stand up for what is important to me, I will be viewed as aggressive.” Stuck in a power struggle, we can sometimes forget what we’re negotiating for in the first place. And, amazingly, if we are willing to let go of the power dynamics and actually listen to the other person’s interests and concerns, you may find that it’s not a zero-sum game; it’s completely possible that you might arrive at a solution where you both get what you want.

In my master’s program, Professors Craig and Linda Barkacs taught me the concept of pie expansion in negotiations. To help me explain the concept, imagine that there is a metaphorical pie. In negotiations, people often feel that their objective is to try to get a bigger piece, so that the other person gets a smaller piece. Sometimes, people even think that only one of the two negotiators can walk away with the pie (that’s what’s called a zero-sum situation – if I win, you lose, and vice versa). But in reality, if you can just put your creativity cap on, it’s totally possible that you can grow the actual pie so that everyone walks away with more. For example, if two companies are competing for the same small set of customers, they could instead work together to grow the total number of customers (for example, advertise to to a new demographic, or roll out a set of products to appeal to a broader customer base) so that they both grow their companies. But to do this, each needs to be willing to not be the “winner” – they will both win much more if they decide that they are willing to work together, instead of against one another.

Sometimes, your negotiating partner (aka the person you’re negotiating with) is not in that mindset and they’re stuck in their own power struggle. When you hear that in their voice or see it in their body language, it is tempting to react in kind. Over the years, I’ve learned to quickly notice that inclination within myself, take a deep breath, and choose to say no to that urge. Like refusing to yell back when someone is yelling at you, eventually, the other person will see that you’re not willing to join them in the tense power struggle, and will appreciate your commitment to the actual issue at hand.

Sometimes, the person you’re negotiating with actually didn’t have strong opinions about their position at all – they just wanted to be heard and respected. Sometimes, when they know that you heard them out and that you care about their goals and concerns, that alone will make them more interested in helping you get what you are after. Other times, your willingness to get creative will allow you both to come up with ideas you never had before, to benefit both of your goals.

The way to get into a pie expansion conversation is to hit the pause button, listen to the other person’s needs carefully and with empathy, and then take moment to consider how what they want/need stacks up with what you want/need. Does saying yes to what they want mean saying no to what you want? If so, how can you get creative? And here’s the big thing: if saying yes to what they want does not impact what you want at all, can you just say yes to them and then share what you are looking for? In my experience, the trouble is that often, stepping back in this way FEELS like backing off in the moment, and it can feel like you’re giving away your power – because some part of you is still stuck in the you vs. them mindset and you’re playing that broken record that says that if they win, you lose. And nobody wants to lose. However, the fact that you’ve engaged in a productive discussion to achieve meaningful understanding is relationship-deepening in itself. Bringing goodwill into a negotiation is very important with people you expect to negotiate again with in the future – in fact, it will make them want to work with you again.,

For me, one of the biggest discipline muscles I’ve had to train is precisely this one: the ego is power-hungry and wants to get proclaimed the winner. But if you get that label, have you necessarily won? I’ve decided I have bigger battles to wage and the more I can quell the small ones by growing the pie, the more time I’ll have to make more magic happen elsewhere.

How do you approach negotiations? What’s your strategy?

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