How to win together

Winning and being a winner are two very different things when it comes to interest based negotiation. During a one week course in Joensuu about Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution this distinction was elaborated with an exercise that can be used in recognizing three important factors in successful negotiation.

In August 2018 NOVA University Network organized together with All-Youth and CORE projects a course about Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution. From Akordi Juha Kotilainen and I attended the course. Mara Hernández from Mexico CIDE-University was one of the teachers in the course and opened the course with an eye-opening exercise. In the exercise the class was split to two teams. Both teams were given the objective to get the other party to their side. The exercise was executed in teams of two.

The exercise took only few minutes but during that time we could see the variety of different strategies people had on trying to achieve their objectives. Few of us tried to convince our partners about our side being better than theirs. Some stayed put because they didn’t want the other one to succeed. Some tried to fool their partners into changing side by promising to return the favor even though they had no real intention to do so.

All of the above are basic negotiation strategies. Trying to convince others that your objective is more justified. Holding on to ”better safe than sorry” approach and ending up in the same place where you started from. Even cheating and making false promises in order to get what you want. Some, however, decided to switch their places simultaneously. This strategy resulted in a situation where both parties got exactly what they wanted without losing trust.

Discussion that followed revealed three main factors that were crucial in order to find a collaborative solution. First of all, finding a solution that benefits all requires willingness to collaborate. As long as the parties don’t see collaboration as an option neither one will be able to get what they want. Secondly, coming up with a collaborative solution requires mutual trust. If the other party will cheat and lie about coming to the other ones side the trust will probably be lost. The one who had lied might have reached their objective on this round but possibilities for future collaboration have decreased. Lastly, there has to be a shared understanding about the solution being beneficial for both parties. If even one party thinks that the solution will not be beneficial for them it is likely that agreement will not be reached.

The exercise we had about trying to get the other one to our side can be seen as a very simplified negotiation setting where all parties have their own objectives. To achieve an agreement it is important to recognize which interests are distributive and which ones are integrative. Very often we see different interests as distributive ones – ”I can’t move to the other side because then the other party won’t come to my side”. But then again, this is not true. By going to the other side I lose nothing, but by doing that I can make it easier for the other party to come to my side.

Obviously there are also interests distributive by nature. Issues regarding land-use or the use of natural resources are often issues where different interests can’t be met at the same time. A land can not be both protected and used for building. Still, around these distributive issues there are also a lot of interests that are integrative. By framing the negotiation and mediation processes in a way that enables discussion over integrative interests we can find ways for different actors to have better relationships and communication.

There is a difference between winning and being a winner. The ones who had a ”winner” mentality during the exercise were not able to come up with an agreement. They ended up trying to convince and cheat their partner. The winner mentality guides us to aim for solutions where we gain as much as we can while others get as little as possible. The problem is, that with this kind of thinking all parties usually end up having less than they could have had. By thinking and discussing about what are the needs and interests of the parties involved there is a good chance that we can find solutions that are beneficial for all. There can only be one winner, but winning can be accomplished together.

More about the course (in finnish):

Emma Luoma