To Negotiate of Not To Negotiate – That is the Question
In our course on Positive Interpersonal Dynamics, we were presented with an assignment to trade a small 3×4 notebook. Over a period of 10 days, we were expected to engage in multiple exchanges with the goal being to trade as many times as possible to see what we ended up with. To some, this sounded like an exciting adventure. To me, this sounded terrifying. This act of trading, negotiating, asking for favors, and approaching people was something I was not comfortable with. I decided that I wouldn’t do the activity and that I would learn from other people’s experiences in class instead. When it came time to discuss the activity, however, I started to think about what had really stopped me from doing this negotiation exercise.
I came to the following conclusions, after reflecting on my initial resistance:
First, what held me back from trading the notebook was that I personally saw no value in the notebook myself. Thus, I saw the process of both creating and claiming value to be a difficult one. Likewise, knowing my tendencies, I predicted that if I were to engage in the negotiation process, I would likely be very accommodating. According to the Dual Concerns Model of Best and Strategic Practices, this type of accommodating behavior is marked by undertaking practices out of regard for the other party, characterized by low assertiveness and high cooperation and empathy (Allred, 2000). Thus, I immediately assumed that because of my accommodating tendencies and aversion to assertiveness, there would be no way that I would end up with anything particularly valuable anyways. This very belief stopped me from even making my first trade.
The other obstacle I faced was that I automatically assumed that I would have to contend in my negotiation. Contending, according to Pruitt (1983), involves trying to get someone else to accept something that is in your favor. By contending, you are directing efforts at the other person to dominate using pressure. Being aware of my strengths as a relationship-builder, I was turned away by the idea of dominating someone else or pressuring them into doing something in my favor. In fact, it has been found that such contentious behavior, especially when used by both parties, does not lead to agreement. Conversely, it can lead to negative outcomes such as stubbornness and rigidity on both sides of the negotiation (Pruitt, 1983).
In general, I tend to put others needs and wants before my own. By seeing contending as the only way of trading this notebook, it made sense as to why I was unwilling to put myself in this situation. I am now aware of other negotiation strategies, but at the time, this seemed like the only option, which ultimately hindered my ability to move forward and engage in the negotiation.
So, what can this teach us moving forward? First, it is important to be aware of the various negotiation strategies that are possible to use. There is no single best approach to negotiation; it depends on various factors such as the individuals involved, the quality of their relationship, what is at stake, and the context of the negotiation. Second, we must also be aware of our own tendencies, strengths and weaknesses when engaging in a negotiation. This self-awareness can help us choose strategies that we can confidently and successfully put into action that can lead to positive outcomes for both parties. Among other lessons, my story goes to show how initial perceptions of negotiation can be paralyzing. Ultimately, challenging these perceptions can help us redefine negotiation in a way that will allow us to more comfortably and confidently give and get what we want.
Allred, K.G. (2000). Distinguishing best and strategic practice: a framework for managing the dilemma between creating and claiming value. Negotiation Journal, 16, 4. Plenum Publishing Corporation.
Pruitt, D. (1983). Strategic choice in negotiation. American Behavioral Scientist. State University of New York at Buffalo, 27, 2. Sage Publications, Inc.