by Alice Alessandri & Alberto Aleo We know you're used to hearing that the first step is the hardest - and not the second - but we want you to reconsider this cliché. When you’re about to start something new, whether it’s a project, a business deal or a first meeting with a client, the initial enthusiasm…
Some time ago we dedicated an article to win-win situations, currently a buzzword when talking about negotiations, whether in political or economic scenarios (industrial disputes, union agreements…) or in the routine situations we deal with every day (closing a sale with a client, choosing a holiday destination, etc.).
Yet when we look around, we realize that attempting to achieve a shared win that will bring mutual benefits to both parties is often more a slogan than a real strategy for effectively conducting negotiations. Indeed, while people often set out with the aim of winning together, they end up exploiting their position of power and imposing a decision, or vice versa, giving up the battle and giving in to the other party; in both cases the result is a win-lose.
Yet the worst and most dangerous scenario comes about when, rather than allowing the other party to win, we prefer that both should lose.
The result is the lose-lose situation examined by the economic historian Carlo M. Cipolla in his essay Le leggi fondamentali della stupidità umana (The basic laws of human stupidity) in which he describes those people who cause harm to others without deriving any benefit for themselves, or even losing out.
Is it possible therefore to recognize a situation where we risk losing all, and turn this eventually winning together?
The thin line between both winning and both losing
At the root of the difficulty of pursuing a shared win lies the most dangerous of counsellors, i.e. fear. We may be influenced by the fear of giving the other party an advantage, of misplacing our confidence or of losing something, and thus end up destroying each other.
Take, for example, the case of a firm that a few years ago, in the midst of the market crisis, was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to cede ownership to a foreign buyer that was willing to take 30% of the firm’s workers, while providing the others with redundancy pay good enough to enable them to support themselves while looking for a new job. The rigid stance both parties maintained throughout the negotiations and everyone’s desire to ensure they lost none of the privileges acquired over time meant it was impossible to reach a “winning together” situation; rather, both sides lost out. The potential buyer lost the opportunity for a good investment while the firm was unable to continue business and all 100% of its employees lost their jobs and failed to collect the hoped-for redundancy pay. As consultants, we often receive requests for help from companies that are paying the negative consequences of hasty choices dictated by the fear of losing a short-term opportunity. We must always evaluate the options and consequences of our actions, by adopting a broader vision that allows us to take into account the views of others within a medium to long-term context.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes to ensure a “winning together” situation
People often pursue different objectives from those they openly declare – these may be unconscious objectives of which they are not fully aware- and this is one of the reasons that hinder us from reaching a win-win situation.
Part of our job is to implement new sales procedures in such companies, based on methods of Sales Ethics. As with all innovations, there will always be people who react negatively to change. Often the person who reacts most vehemently may be one of the most successful salespeople, who may then try to influence colleagues using phrases like, “I have always gone with my gut, and look at the results I’ve obtained: you don’t need methods to sell.” Fear of change, or worse, of watching colleagues increasing their skills and hence losing a position of privilege, mean that such “sales experts” are unaware of the danger deriving from their behavior. They are actually creating the conditions for a lose-lose situation, whereby weaker sellers are unable to grow and improve, thus producing negative repercussions for the company which may fail to make sufficient profits and, in the long run, face a crisis that will threaten the “expert’s” job.
When our interlocutor seems entrenched in an inaccessible position, we must exploit our ability to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, without judging the person but desiring only to investigate the deeper values that generate this point of view. The law of reciprocity reminds us that in order to obtain another person’s trust we must first give them ours and offer alternative solutions. Only then, we will have taken the first step along the path that will lead us winning together.
Understand the consequences with a broader vision
Both a lose-lose and a win-win situation exert considerable power that expands over time and space, in the former case by multiplying rancor and resentment, while in the latter spreading satisfaction and well-being.
By broadening our vision to consider consequences over time, taking into account what will happen next, and over space, considering all the people impacted by the decision we take, helps us to be more effective when negotiating.
Often we focus only on the material aspects of conflicts in negotiations and in particular on what distances us from the position of others, while completely ignoring the points we have in common, though these will become clear as soon as we broaden our outlook.
At Passodue we believe it is important to hone our skills by starting from the smaller negotiations we perform every day and targeting, as far as possible, winning together situations. Not only will you thus obtain greater benefits for the people directly involved in the negotiations, but the positive effects will spread through many levels, helping to make the world – our home – a better place.
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