Where “win-lose” and “win-win” negotiators fall short
by: David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius
The old school of negotiation was “win-lose,” where the main goal is to walk away with the biggest share of the goodies. Then “win-win” negotiation came into favor, and creative solutions to make the pie bigger for all became the norm. While these two approaches seem very different, they are similar in that they are one-dimensional. They miss the larger potential game that can truly drive the outcome of a successful deal. One-dimensional negotiators are hobbled when they try to negotiate in a 3-D world.
|There are many kinds of one-dimensional negotiators. (In fact, the world is full of them.) But most fall into one of two broad categories, which—for the purposes of this article—we’ll call “win-lose” and “win-win” negotiators.
Whether you’re a pro or a novice, you’ll instantly recognize these two types. They offer competing seminars. They do battle in academic journals. And in many cases, they engage at the table.
Win-lose types are from the old school of bargaining, although you can certainly still find plenty of them plying their trade in boardrooms, town hall basements, and rented conference facilities around the world. Their bookshelves bulge with manuals on adversarial ploys, such as Winning Through Intimidation and Start With No. They battle and scrap for the best price, the biggest share of the pie, and so on. They sit down at the bargaining table intending to walk away not only with their share of the goodies, but most of yours, too.
Win-win negotiators, by contrast, have for some time now represented the New Way. They promise innovative solutions, more value, and better relationships. The win-win library consists of books that emphasize the cooperative potential of negotiation, including valuable ones like Getting to Yes and Getting Past No. Win-win types don’t sit around cooking up unilateral ways to get more than their fair share at the table; they’d rather engage in joint brainstorming sessions to come up with creative solutions that “make the pie bigger” for all.
Experience has probably given you an intuitive feel for the pluses and minuses inherent in each approach. Yes, the aggressive win-lose negotiator gets a better deal some of the time. But he or she may damage relationships in the process, may overlook more creative agreements, and may even precipitate a deadlock, thereby causing promising discussions to break down unnecessarily. (Although, we’re the first to admit, some discussions deserve to break down.)
The earnest win-win player may be more focused on creativity—and almost certainly has more friends—but may come up short in tough encounters. It’s a trade-off, and it’s not always a beneficial trade-off. In the name of long-term relationships, naïve win-win negotiators may give up achievable gains in the here and now.
Similarly Hobbled Results
So win-lose and win-win negotiators couldn’t be more different, right? Well, no. In fact, we see them as being very similar in a fundamental way: they are both one-dimensional negotiators. They both concentrate almost exclusively on the face-to-face and tactical aspects of negotiation. They view the negotiating process mainly in terms of actions at the bargaining table, which of course comprises not only the conference room, but virtual tables (phone, fax, e-mail, etc.).
Negotiating advice from both types mainly focuses on how best to deal directly with the other side. From the win-lose side of the house, this means tips on how to size up your opponent’s weak spots, who should make the first offer, how much to demand, how to persuasively overcome objections, decipher body language, threaten to walk away, and profit from various ploys—the “powerless agent” story, the “good-cop bad-cop” routine, and so on. Again, it’s all about grabbing the biggest slice of the pie through actions at the table.
Meanwhile, the win-win playbook shows how to build trust, communicate clearly, probe for real interests behind bargaining positions, brainstorm new options, avoid cross-cultural gaffes, and successfully counter the powerless-agent ploy, the good-cop/bad-cop routine, and so on. But note again that the focus is on the tactical. The players are predetermined, the chess board is set up; all that remains is for a great tactical game to be played.
In our experience, most people consider negotiations to be one or the other of these approaches, or a blend of the two. Take a look, for example, at the many negotiation seminars offered by the venerable American Management Association, which are mostly listed under the category “Communication and Interpersonal Skills.” Again, this is a standard, one-dimensional mindset: Negotiating is what happens at the table. It is about tactics and dealing directly with the other side.
Obviously, win-win negotiators and their win-lose counterparts do more than interact at the table; they also prepare before they get there. But mainly, they prepare by planning their face-to-face approach and tactics. The real action, their main focus, is at the table.
Years of doing deals and analyzing negotiations have persuaded us that this commonsense focus on the table often fails. It routinely misses the larger potential game that can really drive the outcome. Even if they don’t recognize it or acknowledge it, one-dimensional negotiators are actually playing in a 3-D world, and they often pay a steep price for their very limited approach. They, or the people whom they represent, are the losers.
David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius are the authors of 3D Negotiation – Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals (Harvard Business School Press, September 2006). For more information on how you can become a 3D negotiator and keep your deals from falling short, see their book website www.3dnegotiation.comand their business website www.negotiate.com.
Adapted with permission from Harvard Business School Press from 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius. Copyright 2006 David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius. All Rights Reserved.