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In Praise of Win-Win Negotiating

by Ed Brodow

In Praise of Win-Win Negotiating, by Ed BrodowA new book on negotiating claims that win-win negotiation can only get you into trouble. People will take advantage of you. It's a waste of time. I am appalled that readers are exposed to this kind of nonsense, but I can understand why many negotiators are hesitant to try the cooperative approach. Here are their reasons:

  1. They are afraid of being taken advantage of by a ruthless opponent.
  2. They are too lazy to change the way they have always negotiated.
  3. Even if they wanted to, they don't know how to change bad habits.

The question is: Is win-win worth all the effort? I believe it is. A tragic incident in my hometown, the Monterey Peninsula on the Central California coast, illustrates the superiority of collaboration over confrontation.

Three days ago, Mel Grimes returned to his secluded Carmel Valley home at the end of his workday. The 58-year-old Mr. Grimes was an attorney with an excellent reputation in the local community. As he pulled into his driveway, his progress was impeded by a boulder. That's right. A boulder. Not a rock, but a BOULDER!

It seems that a disagreement had existed for some time between Mr. Grimes and his next-door neighbor, Jack Kenney, a 72-year-old geologist, over a part of the driveway that both of them shared. Mr. Kenney held the position that a portion of the driveway was his property and that Mr. Grimes had no right to use it. On that afternoon, Mr. Kenney had arranged for a large boulder to be set in place blocking access to Mr. Grimes' driveway. When Mr. Grimes arrived and saw the boulder, he confronted Mr. Kenney and emotions ran wild.

The police log shows that Mr. Grimes' wife, Elizabeth, 55, called and requested police assistance in quelling the hostile confrontation. Then, from her kitchen window, she saw Mr. Kenney pull out an automatic pistol and fire it at Mr. Grimes. Mrs. Grimes ran outside to help her husband and was also gunned down by Mr. Kenney. Mr. Grimes was pronounced dead at the scene and Mrs. Grimes died on the way to the hospital.

Three lives were ruined. Had these unfortunate people used my Three Rules for Win-Win Negotiating, all of them would still be living productive lives. Here are the rules (from my book, Negotiation Boot Camp):

  1. Change your behavior from adversarial to cooperative. In other words, don't adopt the other person's hostility, try to understand their behavior, and treat them like a partner.
  2. Develop trust by listening. Don't blame the other person. Give them a chance to tell you what their real needs are. We trust people who listen to us. Trust is a prerequisite to collaboration.
  3. Explore options for mutual satisfaction. How can both of us get our needs met? Brainstorm the problem together.

Judging by the facts, Mr. Grimes and Mr. Kenney treated each other as adversaries, failed to maintain an open discourse, and did not explore their options for solving the disagreement. The atmosphere was one of total distrust.

In Negotiation Boot Camp, I describe a similar negotiation that I had with my next-door neighbor over the fence between our properties. Without notifying my neighbor, I extended the fence by three feet to prevent outsiders (including my neighbor) from looking into my living room, one side of which is all glass. When she saw the addition to the fence, my neighbor angrily remarked, "What's the big idea? That fence ruins the whole look of my house!"

Her comment was clearly absurd. Ruin the whole look of her house? That is an insult to my intelligence, I thought. My initial reaction was anger. How dare she behave in such an inconsiderate manner? But then I realized that she was just upset because I had not informed her in advance that I intended to extend the fence, which, after all, was on her property as well as mine. What she was really after was an apology.

I made an on-the-spot decision not to react to her anger. Changing my behavior from adversarial to cooperative, I simply said, "I'm sorry. Just tell me what you want me to do, and I'll take care of it." She was so surprised by my conciliatory response that she dropped her complaint. I had successfully resisted the temptation to mirror my neighbor's rude behavior. Instead, I made the effort to understand her motivation and treated her with the respect due to a partner. It worked.

Of course you will find yourself in some situations where win-win does not work. But I contend that those unpleasant experiences are in the minority. Most of the time, if you are willing to set an example by applying the Three Rules, treating the other negotiator as a partner, they will follow your lead and both of you will enjoy a fruitful relationship.

Here is a summary of the benefits of win-win negotiating:

  1. Both sides enjoy having their needs met.
  2. The anxiety that accompanies adversarial negotiation disappears when the objective is not to win but rather to help each other. Yes, negotiation actually becomes fun!
  3. The emotional explosions that characterize confrontations like the one described at the beginning of this article are channeled into creative, productive outcomes.
  4. Collaboration leads to mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

People in and out of the business world are tired of the old paradigm for negotiating in which we try to abuse each other in order to win. Public consciousness is shifting in the direction of collaboration, and I think it's about time.

Ed Brodow is a keynote speaker and negotiation guru on PBS, ABC News, Fox News, and Inside Edition. He is the author of Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals. For more information on his keynotes and seminars, call 831-372-7270, e-mail, and visit

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