What do you think of when you hear the word NEGOTIATION? Ambassadors and generals seated around a mahogany table, wheeling and dealing nuclear weapons and the fate of nations?
OPEC oil ministers nose to nose with oil company executives? Labor and management locked in a 12th-hour contract struggle? Buyer and seller haggling over the price and terms of a cow or a car? According to Dr. Israel Unterman, most of us do think of negotiation in this limited, tough-guys-finish-first, win-lose sense.
But Unterman, a professor in the department of management, San Diego State University, believes that this notion, which “…pigeonholes the meaning of negotiation squarely in the middle of a block labeled either labor-management or conflict resolution,” is unnecessarily restrictive.
He attributes this misunderstanding of the scope and objectives of the negotiation process to the tendency of game theorists, social psychologists and lawyers to view negotiation principles only from the context of adversarial proceedings.
But a careful reading of such well-known management consultants as Peter Drucker and George Steiner, suggests Unterman, reveals an impressive minority opinion that views negotiation as a critical set of managerial skills. Steiner makes the point: “There is a tendency to consider negotiated decision making as some¬thing that only occurs across bound¬aries of an organization.
This impression is misleading. It is precisely the fact that so much decision making within organizations is of a negotiated nature that accounts for widespread use of meetings and group discussions.” Drucker looks at the problem in a similar way: “The manager who ‘makes’ the decision actually does no such thing. He defines the problem.
He sets objectives and spells out the rules….But for the solution to become a decision, action is needed. And that the decision-making manager cannot supply. He can only communicate to others what they ought to be doing and motivate them to do it. And only as they take the right action is the decision actually made.”
Unterman, and others who are proponents of negotiation skills as a set of generic management tools, tend to define negotiation in terms of changing relationships. “Whenever people exchange ideas with the in¬tention of changing relationships, whenever they confer for agreement, they are negotiating,” says Gerard I. Nierenberg, director of the New York City-based Negotiation Institute, Inc., and author of Fundamentals of Negotiating (Hawthorne, 1973).
Unterman amplifies and elaborates Nierenberg’s definition: “….rather than occurring in a framework of conflict, negotiation (under this definition) is perceived as taking place in a positive setting of intended cooperation. It is exchanging ideas with the expressed intention of changing relationships.
The action is taken neither to widen nor to breach the relation¬ships, but to form a new or different configuration. True, there will be differences of opinions, but this does not automatically imply conflict.
On the contrary, when executives involved are skilled at negotiation, one main objective is to create a better, ongoing relationship.” In short, then, negotiation is something most of us are engaged in for a good part of any given day. Negotiation is a way of structuring the communication process; it’s a positive skill, not an offensive weapon.
Written by Ron Zemke, Training Magazine