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The Importance of Negotiations, Collaborations Within An Organization






"It is 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 together.

As Kolb points out:" Given time, difficulties that once seemed insurmountable can disappear…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.

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