John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Art of Problem-Solving

Remember, the the “art of negotiation” is really the “art of problem solving.”

To get what you want in negotiating, however,  you have to first be able to give the other side what they want, too.

Negotiation isn’t about who can yell loudest what they want until the other side capitulates. It’s a process of understanding until the wisest —and often most creative—resolution of the problem is discovered and properly disclosed and proffered. And you can’t do that unless you know fully what the other side “really” wants–both what they say they want and what they actually want (the two aren’t always the same….not because the other side is concealing something but because they may not have fully thought through the process themselves and can answer clearly and candidly.)

A great example I’ll never forget from my MBA program went something like this.  Two companies in different industries were negotiating for a rare orange available in scarce supply from South America. They went to war in negotiations for the orange, escalating the price and trying to undermine the others need and use for the orange. Each needed more than “half” the supply and were willing to pay premium pricing for it. The two sides exhausted the different ways of dividing up ownership of the oranges between the two but none were satisfactory. And then, at the end of this disastrous and destructive and costly negotiation, it is discovered that Company A needs only the rind of the orange and Company B the pulp. But neither side took the time to find that out about the other before it was too late and both companies paid exorbitant prices and didn’t get what they wanted.


jyb_musingsIgnorance of the situation.

Or more pointedly, self-absorption and an unwilling to try to “solve a problem” rather than merely “getting mine.”

This is a great life lesson and business lesson to understand what each side is really needing and seeking. Knowledge is power. And smart. And ignorance is so very costly and wasteful. And ultimately humiliating and does a disservice to all involved. It’s never enough to know only what you want. The key, ironically, to the most successful negotiators (problem solvers) is that they also know what the other side wants –and how to deliver it to them.

If you enter a negotiation without a strong sense of that understanding, you aren’t really negotiating or problem solving. You are just making petulant, uninformed demands.


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