The Negotiator Magazine

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Similarly Hobbled Results

So win-lose and win-win negotiators couldn't be more different, right? Well, no. In fact, we see them as being very similar in a fundamental way: they are both one-dimensional negotiators. They both concentrate almost exclusively on the face-to-face and tactical aspects of negotiation. They view the negotiating process mainly in terms of actions at the bargaining table, which of course comprises not only the conference room, but virtual tables (phone, fax, e-mail, etc.).

Negotiating advice from both types mainly focuses on how best to deal directly with the other side. From the win-lose side of the house, this means tips on how to size up your opponent's weak spots, who should make the first offer, how much to demand, how to persuasively overcome objections, decipher body language, threaten to walk away, and profit from various ploys--the "powerless agent" story, the "good-cop bad-cop" routine, and so on. Again, it's all about grabbing the biggest slice of the pie through actions at the table.

Meanwhile, the win-win playbook shows how to build trust, communicate clearly, probe for real interests behind bargaining positions, brainstorm new options, avoid cross-cultural gaffes, and successfully counter the powerless-agent ploy, the good-cop/bad-cop routine, and so on. But note again that the focus is on the tactical. The players are predetermined, the chess board is set up; all that remains is for a great tactical game to be played.

In our experience, most people consider negotiations to be one or the other of these approaches, or a blend of the two. Take a look, for example, at the many negotiation seminars offered by the venerable American Management Association, which are mostly listed under the category "Communication and Interpersonal Skills." Again, this is a standard, one-dimensional mindset: Negotiating is what happens at the table. It is about tactics and dealing directly with the other side.

Obviously, win-win negotiators and their win-lose counterparts do more than interact at the table; they also prepare before they get there. But mainly, they prepare by planning their face-to-face approach and tactics. The real action, their main focus, is at the table.

Years of doing deals and analyzing negotiations have persuaded us that this commonsense focus on the table often fails. It routinely misses the larger potential game that can really drive the outcome. Even if they don't recognize it or acknowledge it, one-dimensional negotiators are actually playing in a 3-D world, and they often pay a steep price for their very limited approach. They, or the people whom they represent, are the losers.

David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius are the authors of 3D Negotiation -- Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals (Harvard Business School Press, September 2006). For more information on how you can become a 3D negotiator and keep your deals from falling short, see their book website and their business website

Adapted with permission from Harvard Business School Press from 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius. Copyright 2006 David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius. All Rights Reserved.

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July 2007