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Often, I’d Prefer Not to Negotiate

Ben Byth

Often, I’d prefer not to negotiate... this may seem a strange choice for a blog title written by a negotiation consultant who works for a negotiation training and advisory company. So why then would I suggest that negotiation isn’t always the answer? Not everything is a negotiation! 


As a professional negotiator, I do of course practice what we preach at Scotwork – good negotiation preparation, asking questions, listening to the other party and understanding what is of value to them, looking for areas of flexibility, etc...   All very important skills. However another important skill for any negotiator is the ability to recognise when to negotiate and when there may be a more suitable alternative to conflict.  


There are many alternatives to resolving conflict and negotiation is but one of these. In many situations negotiation is the preferable option but there are certainly times when another alternative may be more suitable. Some that come to mind include: 


  • If you believe that persuasion is likely to work. I typically try persuasion first because if I’m able to convince someone with my words alone, then the cost to me is small compared to negotiating… which involves making concessions. However, the real trick with persuasion is to be sensitive to when it isn’t working because continuing to persuade at that point will only make my counterpart less likely to be flexible. 
  • If the possible risk to the relationship is unacceptable. If the relationship is more important than the transaction, then a collaborative negotiation stance can be very productive and safe. However, there are times when the upside of proposing a trade with the other party simply wouldn’t be worth the possible downside.  
  • If there isn’t anything in it for you.  Sometimes people present us with problems that come with no reward once solved and no urgency if not. If this is the case – you might consider kicking the can down the road! An interest is only piqued to negotiate when there is something in it for you… either the possibility of an incentive or the threat of a sanction. In the absence of any interest for you, test the assumption, then consider diverting your attention to problems that will make a difference. Think about why people don’t respond to some of your email requests!  
  • If you can resolve the issue by problem solving. Problem solving can be a great alternative to conflict, especially for the engineers among us. Again, it can be cheaper than negotiation as it doesn’t necessarily involve concession/s. The trick with problem solving is to understand that we all probably define the problem a little differently, so to solve the problem for my counterparty, I need to view the problem as they would!  
  • If achieving the outcome is more important than the relationship. Sometimes it is appropriate to impose your will to achieve your outcome, regardless of the cost to relationship. Think ‘safety’. We don’t need to negotiate with someone who isn’t adhering to OHS policy… it is appropriate to simply tell them!  
  • At home. I’d advise a little bit of caution when it comes to negotiating with your spouse, family and friends, because ultimately the preservation of relationship will be more important than the transaction. Being tough on the negotiating issues and hard-nosed on trading will not breed a lot of reciprocity and good will at home. However, the element of collaborative negotiating behavior could well help to strengthen these relationships… summarizing and demonstrating empathy, being curious to surface other interests or constraints, making proposals that truly give them what they want on your terms, etc.  


Next time you’re faced with a conflict, stop and weigh up the alternatives and remember, these are not mutually exclusive! 


Happy negotiating! 

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