Interest: the Measure of Negotiation

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Interests: The Measure o f Negotiation
D a v i d A. L a x arid J a m e s K. Sebenius

People negotiate to further their interests. And negotiation advisers urge attention to interests--often solemnly, as if the suggestion were original and surprising. Yet Socrates' admonition to " K n o w Thyself" surety scoops any late twentieth century advice of this sort. So, academic compulsiveness aside, w h y write an article o n interests or, more to the point, w h y read one? The answer, in part, is that negotiators often focus o n interests, but conceive of them too narrowly. We will argue for a more expansive conception o f negotiator's interests. Moreover, interests often conflict, and simply listing them without understanding the tradeoffs among them is a bit like writing out a recipe without including the proportions. In addition to determining interests, negotiators need ways to assess the relative importance o f those various interests. We will try to clarify the logic of assessing tradeoffs. As hard as it may be to sort out one's o w n interests, understanding h o w others see theirs--their subjective scheme of values as perceived through their peculiar psychological filters--can be extraordinarily difficult. Obviously, suggesting a stretch "in the other person's shoes" is g o o d advice; equally obviously, it is only a starting point. In this article we will try to go further.

An Expansive Conception o f a Negotiator's Interests
In evaluating the interests at stake, a typical negotiator might focus on commodities that can be bought and sold or on concrete terms that can be written into a contract or treaty. And, negotiators definitely have such interests: the crippled plaintiff desperately wants compensation; a sales manager cares intensely about prices, profit margins, return on investment, and personal compensation; managers may derive value from seeing their particular product sweep the market or furthering some vision of the public interest. T h r o u g h o u t this article, we assume that negotiators want to do welt for themselves. Of course, "doing well" is only measured with respect to the things they care about, whether out of direct self-interest or concern for the welfare of others. Thus, doing " b e t t e r " in a negotiation need not imply pressing for more m o n e y or a bigger share; rather, it means advancing the totality o f one's interests, which may include m o n e y and other tangibles as well as D a v i d A. L a x is Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School, 301 Morgan Hall, Boston, Mass. 02163, and is the author of "Optimal Search in Negotiation Analysis" (/ournal o f Conflict Resolution, fall 1985). J a m e s K. S e b e n i u s , o n leave as Associate Professor at the K e n n e d y School o f G o v e r n m e n t at Harvard, is associated with Peterson Jacobs, a m e r c h a n t bank in N e w York, a n d is the author o f Negotiating the Law o f lhe Sea: Les~ons in the Art a n d Science o f Reaching Agreement (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984). Lax a n d Sebenius are the coauthors o f the forthcoming booR, The Manger as Negotiator (New York: T h e Free Press). 0748-4526/86/0100-0073505,00/0© 1986PlenumPublishingCorporation

Negotiation Journal January 1986 73

fairness, the well-being of one's counterparts, and the collegiality of the process. For instance, furthering Robert's interests m a y m e a n taking less m o n e y to obtain a fair settlement by a friendly process; b y the same token, Helen m a y want only to publicly humiliate her counterpart and extract from him the very biggest check. It is especially c o m m o n in business negotiations, however, to assume that interests extend only to the b o t t o m line. Yet imagine holding rigidly to this assumption w h e n negotiating with the n u m b e r two executive of a technical products c o m p a n y from the u p p e r half of the Fortune 500. He echoed his firm's philosophy w h e n he stated: Our most...
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