Friday, December 27, 2013

Limitations to Negotiation: Lack of Empathy


Oppositional Behaviors

A very primitive negotiating strategy is pure opposition.  The baseline assumption is that all parameters are separate, one-dimensional "fixed pies".

Picture a 100 foot length of rope.  If you got a long piece then I, by necessity, must accept a shorter piece.

Every item on the table devolves to a win-lose confrontation.  There are no shades of gray.  Contrast is absolute.

The fix

One way to overcome oppositional thinking is to build empathy.  One way to build empathy is to role-play.

I favor having the Reps take turns staying in their own role and having the other Rep role-play as the stakeholder(s) the in-role Rep must answer to.

An example in the industrial world would be for the Labor Rep to role-play the COO or CFO or Shareholder while the Management Rep stays in-role.  Then they would trade places with the Labor Rep staying in-role and the Management Rep role-playing a represented employee.


Empathy building fails when not buttressed by Mythical Fixed Pie.

In the example above, Labor might "demand" reimbursement for gym fees as one of the issues that bubbled up from the floor.  After the empathy building exercise the Labor Rep might propose some low out-of-pocket cost accommodations (like a walking trail) to support physical fitness.

In a similar way, Management might propose supplementing with temporary workers during periods of peak vacation demand in exchange for other operational flexibilities.

Another concern is that emotional investment can lock things up.  A walking-trail will be seen as a "loss" if constituents start adjust their budget based on the expectation of gym fee reimbursement.


Many teenagers go through a phase of oppositional, low-empathy negotiation.  After all, it is a primitive method.

The role-play proposal is one way to project the nuts-and-bolts of your value map into your child's head.  It forces them to think about the pressures and limitations of the adult world they must navigate in just a few years.

And it will refresh your memory of the importance of "cool" and the absolute necessity of conforming to the uniform of the tribe.

* Inspired by Heuristics in Negotiation, Limitations to Effective Dispute Resolution by Bazerman and Neale. 

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