The Negotiator Magazine

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Monitor the progress of the collaborative agreement process by asking other questions like, "How would you describe what we have agreed thus far to your boss or colleagues?" "How do you think we should explain that last element of the deal to our lawyers, accountants, shareholders, etc.?" "Does anything I have proposed seem strange to you in terms of the way you do business?" "Just to make sure I don't misrepresent our agreement thus far in conversation with my boss/colleagues, etc., could you kindly summarize in your own words to make sure we're on the same page?"

Although it may help communication enormously, using a common language for collaborative decision-making is no guarantee of mutual comprehension. Language is a crucial tool for the exchange of information between parties and without the exchange of information it is impossible for negotiating parties to be certain that they are discussing the same issues, dealing with the right counterpart, or reaching mutual agreement.

The risks inherent in using any language is that it has many subsets based on issues like regional usages, differing professional mindsets, age or other demographic differences, or corporate culture. Assuming that a shared language utilized by parties from different cultures will 'paper over' any cultural differences is especially foolhardy.

A common language should be used first and foremost as a means for checking that different parties' assumptions about items under discussion - and the apparent interests each is pursuing - are, indeed, understood to mean the same thing for the negotiators. Figuring out the right questions to ask is both more difficult and more important than the responses one receives to those questions. Language is a tool for use in eliciting information, not simply a mechanism for self-expression.

Successful negotiation is a process that yields agreements that each party will willingly fulfill. Unless the common language of negotiation brings about that willing commitment to fulfill agreements, it has not made negotiation a successful process.


Steven P. Cohen, President of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts (USA) (www.negotiationskills.com), is author of Negotiating Skills for Managers (McGraw-Hill).

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December 2005