Most of us, regardless of what type of negotiation we are in, have the same assumption about how it should go: We want to maximize what we get while minimizing what the other person gets. But that’s all wrong, says Art Markman, psychology professor and Fast Company contributor. Speaking at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York on Tuesday, he said that many negotiations should be mutually beneficial.
Figuring out how you should approach a negotiation starts by considering what type of relationship you want to have with the person you’re talking to. As Markman explains, all of our relationships fall into one of three categories: family, neighbors, and strangers. With family, you do anything for them without keeping score or expecting to get paid back. (Parents don’t present their children with a bill for raising them, for example). The next group is neighbors. These are people with whom you have a relationship of familiarity and mutual benefit. (You do something for them, like pet-sitting for a vacation, and they will, at some point, do something for you, like pick your kid up from school when you are running late.) The last group is strangers. Most people in the world, of course, fall into this category. (Every interaction is in the moment; it’s a contract that has to be fulfilled.)
The problem, as Markman explains, is that most people in their work negotiations–whether with future hires, bosses, or clients–treat the other person as a stranger rather than as a neighbor. If, for example, you think about an offer as physically sitting on a table, in between two negotiating parties, you probably want to bring that offer as close to you as possible, thereby getting the most out of it. But the closer it gets to you, the further it gets away from the other person. In other words, you’re in a tug of war.
According to Markman, if you want to work with this person again, which you likely do, you should approach it as if you are standing side by side, trying to reach the same destination.
To do that, you likely need to give away more information than most people do in a negotiation. In a competitive approach to negotiation, you minimize the amount of information you give, but if you are trying to solve a problem together, then you tell the other party what you need, what your ultimate goals are, and work on a way to get there together. There can be room, then, for a lot more sharing of resources, and both parties can walk away feeling like that got something they wanted, rather than one person “winning” and one person “losing.” A lot of times, the real negotiation isn’t the thing you are talking about, it’s about the bigger goal, which can be easy to lose sight of.
Of course, the reason why many people are hesitant to show their hand in a negotiation is the fear that the other person will exploit the information. Those people, Markman says, are telling you that they want to remain in the stranger category. Those are the people you don’t want to keep doing business with.
Instead, say: Here’s what I need, and here’s what you need, and how can we figure it out? The people who are most successful in the long run, Markman says, are the people whom you get something out of every time you interact with them–even if you have to give something up. That is what makes you want to keep working with them.
Another way to look at this creative approach to negotiation is as part of building your reputation. Markman advises stopping to ask yourself this question in any negotiation: “If I keep down this path, how do I look in the long run?”
“We influence the relationships we have though every interaction,” he says. “Do you want everyone to be strangers? You want to create negotiations that are just because I win, it doesn’t mean you have to lose.”
This approach to negotiation, Markman says, strengthens your relationships, bringing more people into your neighborhood. After all, none of us succeed on our individual strengths. It’s about who you bring together.