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Finding common ground

Negotiation is another name for a variety of joint decision-making processes. People also use terms like making a deal, trading, bargaining or haggling. A successful negotiation has taken place if the parties end up mutually committed to fulfil the agreement.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 13:31 IST

Negotiation is another name for a variety of joint decision-making processes. People also use terms like making a deal, trading, bargaining or haggling. A successful negotiation has taken place if the parties end up mutually committed to fulfil the agreement.

It is important to keep in mind that negotiation is not a competitive sport. In this exercise, we surely aim to do the best for ourselves but certainly not with the intention of crushing the opposition. When you deal with your customers, suppliers, friends or relatives, it should not be viewed as competition.

Cooperative approach
Today's professionals must look towards a cooperative approach of negotiations where wide ranges of interests, of all the parties, are addressed. We must understand that negotiation is not a zero sum game but a way to create value for all the sides involved.

We are often required to reach an understanding with people who are different from us in terms of education, culture or financial status. If we look only at our differences then it can create obstacles in the talks and therefore, we need to focus on our (common) interests rather than differences.

The interest factor
Interest-based negotiation is an approach to negotiation where the parties focus on their individual interests and the interests of the other parties to find a common ground. This way negotiators can build a mutually acceptable solution. One of the most difficult things to do is to find out our own interests.

For instance, while buying a consumer durable or electronic gadget, if we are clear on our usage and benefits required, then we can look around for an item that satisfies our purpose and requirements. Many times, we buy a product most of whose features are rarely used. We unnecessarily pay a high price whereas our purpose would have been served by taking a lower specification model at a significantly lower price. (Remember this concept while purchasing mobile phones.

You can make big savings if you take a hand set, which has good enough features to meet your real requirements.) Same way, in business negotiations we must really know our objectives and desired outcomes.

Know the difference
Distinguishing between interests and positions is a critical step in understanding the negotiation process. When we use interests of parties involved in negotiations then we have greater flexibility in the decision making process. Let us look at a typical example of "buying or selling a car". The interest of each buyer is different — if he is paying on his own for all running costs then fuel efficiency becomes a major criterion. 

However, if the company is paying for fuel and, say, not for maintenance, then comprehensive maintenance period of two or three years becomes equally important. It is, therefore, essential for a car salesperson to understand the major interests of a potential buyer and show how they will be met.  Many a time, senior employees take unreasonable positions and are unwilling to accept any alternative.

In such cases, rather than attacking their ideas, try to make out why they are taking such a line and what would be the possible reason behind it. Once you find out what the other party is really trying to achieve, then you develop a better sense to present options that will respond to their most important interests. n

The writer, Director, Schott Glass Pvt. Ltd., is a known speaker and trainer on the subject. He will be writing a series on this topic. Send your queries to htspecialprojects@hindustantimes.com