Should you always seek ambitious negotiation results? It might seem so. A promising new book by Lawrence Susskind is titled, Good for You, Great for Me:Finding the Trading Zone and Winning at Win-Win Negotiation. I look forward to learning from it. But still- how great an outcome should you strive for?
I found it freeing, more practically useful, and morally more satisfying when I shifted my negotiation teaching on the subject last year. How? by making the case for four different goals a negotiator may wish to thoughtfully select from (which I list in no particular order):
(1) compromise (i.e., even split);
(2) satisficing (i.e., barely acceptable);
(3) generous (i.e, giving sacrificially); and
(4) ambitious (not greedy)
There is research and ancient wisdom supporting each goal. There are times when each is appropriate; the key is to be intentional and not rationalize fear or greed. Here’s why each is worth considering:
Even Compromise? Many (not all) joint ventures and other partnerships thrive on the sense of fairness and trust a ~50/50 profit split fosters, and suffer when one partner gets considerably more. Other relationships do too.
Generosity? Adam Grant’s excellent book, Give & Take, shows that the most successful people foster a reputation for being generous (and savvy). Also, many situations call for generosity. Generosity also communicates love and commitment. Thus- how do I negotiate with a friend when he asks me for $50? “I can’t give you $50 but I can give you $100.”
Satisficing (i.e., seeking a barely acceptable outcome)? In some cases striving for more can be wasteful and can reduce happiness, as Barry Schwartz notes in The Paradox of Choice, and as F. Scott Fitzgerald concludes in The Great Gatsby. Thus it may be a waste of time, energy, and contentment to shop and negotiate endlessly for the best price on a Christmas tree or a laptop.
Ambitious Goals? They’re especially appropriate when you’re representing others who are strongly depending on you– thus Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. were zealous advocates for the oppressed. And too in talks where your future will be shaped by the results. In compensation talks for example, weak results may amplify over the years. Ambition is probably fine in many other cases, but greediness tends to backfire, many studies show. True, many rationalize weak negotiating, so in all these choices the keys are to be intentional and honest with yourself- and accountable to others.