Always Negotiate for Win-Win?
Ahhh, “win-win” - perhaps the most overused, and least meaningful, phrase in the world of negotiating.
In the vast majority of personal and commercial negotiations, undertaken in the context of a long term relationship, you should preferably leave the other side feeling happy, or at least comfortable enough with the outcome that they’ll implement the deal without coercion. This is both the right thing to do, and good commercial practice - agreements should be sustainable, and your reputation lasts a lot longer than the deal.
But the real world, with its pervasive financial pressures, also presents subtleties, exceptions and trade-offs. Leaving the other party “happy”, as opposed to merely comfortable implies that you’ve left money on the table.
If you’re buying a fridge from a large national retailer, you’re probably not in it for their shareholders (even if you own shares!). Of course you should be personally friendly and professional, because you don’t want the experience to be unpleasant for the salesperson – however few would argue that taking a firm (or even aggressive) position on pricing in that circumstance would be unethical.
Win-win doesn’t always apply. In an extreme example, a hostage negotiator will not be overly concerned that the hostage-taker leaves the negotiation happy; in fact it may be quite important to ensure the opposite, to minimize repeat or copycat behavior in future.
Many of us have faced commercial negotiators whose behavior seems to border on hostage taking, and it rarely makes sense to reward behavior that you are trying to prevent. When you’re “negotiating with a terrorist” – an individual who clearly doesn’t have your interests at heart (or isn’t behaving ethically), it may make sense to punish their behavior by threatening a commercial sanction (something they want to avoid), or by going around them, or by denying them the deal so they see that their behaviors won’t deliver them a good result. In other words, win-lose.
In this situation, though, there are a few things to consider before you pull the trigger:
This article is part of a longer whitepaper on Negotiation & Ethics by Simon Letchford. Read more here.
About the author:
Simon has extensive negotiating experience in both the public and private sector including complex contract negotiations, teaming agreements, joint ventures, high-value development contracts and other commercial arrangements.