accepted practice to negotiate with vendors, allies and strategic partners
outside your own company. And, increasingly, collaboration with external
sources---customers, partners and strategic allies--willing to share information
is being sought as managers wake up to the realization of the increased
profitability resulting from greater collaboration and fine tuning of
products and services. But many managers are just now grasping the importance
of ongoing negotiation and improved collaboration within a company. "
In every company there are different stake holders with different perceptions
of their priorities. Engineers may focus on their schedules, by which
they are evaluated, and marketing people necessarily focus on customer's
concerns. Often, different viewpoints result in conflicting agendas, when
what is needed is a single agenda, even though it may have different components
and milestones, which will best serve the customer. To arrive at this
unified vision requires a process by which two camps can open up a line
of communication, build trust and establish rapport, so they can ultimately
discuss their differences, and be able to collaborate on the best solution
to the customer's problems.
As Deborah M. Kolb, Ph.D. and Judith Williams, Ph.D. point out in The
Shadow Negotiation, How Women Can Master The Hidden Agendas That Determine
Bargaining Success, "Only recently have we become aware of how important
the "invisible" work of trust building is to negotiation
It takes work to change the perceptions that people bring to negotiation.
It takes work to keep a dialogue going when the other party's only inclination
is to put demands on the table and press for a deal."
Getting your agenda adopted by your company; receiving the necessary staffing
and funding; gaining the cooperation of other departments, keeping your
"constituents" happy, all require delicate negotiation with
other departments or factions within your workplace.
Certain practices will facilitate negotiation and increase collaboration.
Kolb and Williams identify key elements:
Work to Make Room for Relationship Building
The company itself must work to keep an atmosphere comfortable instead
of awkward or adversarial. Some of the physical settings which promote
comfort are chairs which are uniform in height, instead of seating someone
in a low chair where she has to look up at others; or seating someone
in front of a huge, power desk instead of sitting down next to her or
directly across from her. Having everyone sit on the sides of a conference
table, instead of placing one person at the head, also tends to smooth
out power differentials and tends to increase ' comfort level.
Casual social interaction, such as sharing meals, joining together to
play softball, or being able to take a break and swap stories about their
personal lives, all tend to help workers relax and build trust. Insights
offered in personal stories also can become a basis of shared values,
or show others the areas of commonality where they may be able to relate
to a co-worker and produce a better working relationship. Ultimately,
it's all about trust, and its hard to trust someone you don't know, or
know only by job title.
Work To Keep the Dialogue Going
Good working relationships are built over time and establishing and maintaining
an open line of communication is key to developing trust. Another dimension
of trust is time. Allowing time for a relationship to develop, and to
discover areas of possible agreement or shared values helps pave the way
to better understanding. Particularly, if one is seeking change, or accommodation
at work, most people need time to give up old habits and develop new ways
of doing things or adopt new procedures.
As Dr. Joyce Brothers has said about relationships like marriage, it takes
time to develop a "we" group. A "we" group happens
when the engineering department stops butting heads with marketing; when
they meet the customer together, and try to understand and solve his challenges
As Kolb points out:" Given time, difficulties that once seemed insurmountable
Even when significant differences remain, a growing
rapport allows you to talk through them, ( so that) change remains a possibility."
Although the time required for trust building may seem excruciatingly
slow, it will save time and allow for progress in the long run. You can
use this period to work back channels, to develop information and statistics
to support your case, to get other workers on board and discover where
your natural alliances are. Then, when the time is ripe to move ahead,
when your co-worker is ready to open up and work as a team with you, you
will be ready.
Work to Get Everyone To "Own" the Problem
It is never easy to get someone to "own" a problem, since a
person's first reaction can be that a problem is a hot potato she wants
to get rid of as soon as she can bat it away from her and in another direction.
Also, people tend to get annoyed by problems and often blame the messenger.
The bottom line is, even if you can get the other person to share the
problem, with you taking responsibility for a big piece of it, that is
progress. It does get both of you dialoguing in a constructive way about
how to solve the situation, and just that cooperation may be enough to
get the two of you back on track and working together.
Asking questions that encourage the other person to rethink the problem
and to track the history of the problem may be all that's required to
get both of you to see the situation from a fresh perspective and move
ahead to a common solution
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that many aspects of life are a negotiation, whether
it's with your spouse, at work, or with your car repairman. Fortunately,
as a relationship deepens and an exchange becomes more open, differences
can be considered, more mutuality develops and understandings deepen.
Instead of a single way to resolve an issue, one begins to understand,
there are many ways, and, given time and willingness to explore them,
some may work out better for all concerned. This is the best possible
outcome, both for workers and the company, and, not least of all, the
company's bottom line.