Negotiating: Your Own Peace Summit

As Middle East tensions rise, as they periodically do, we find U.S. and other world leaders intervening in the negotiation process between Israeli leaders and the Palestinians to broker a peace agreement. The process of reaching a settlement between parties with divergent interests can be very delicate and the parties often have very significant vested interests.

In organizations, the process of negotiating between two competing parties is just as delicate, although most often not as public as an international peace accord. The processes are similar, and reaching a solution that is a "win-win" for all parties concerned is often a true managerial challenge. The following actions and attitudes, when used by both parties, can result in a mutually beneficial experience and conclusion. But in any case, if one party follows these guidelines, the process can still be significantly enhanced.

1. Be prepared. Understand the issues and interests that each party is likely to bring to the negotiation process. This is undoubtedly the most important single step in effective negotiations. Come with a tight grasp of the key issues that will be discussed. Understand the environment in which you and the other parties will operate.

2. Understand your interests and the interests of the other parties. Take the time to thoroughly research your interests: what do you hope to gain through the process and what are you willing to do or to give up to reach your principle objective. Do you understand what the other parties bring to the table and what they hope to gain? Do you know what questions to ask to get to the "bottom" of the interests of all parties?

3. Always be honest. Credibility is the most important value that any party brings to the negotiating table. Fabricating facts, or shooting from the hip without all the facts only serve to undermine your ability to communicate and to deliver on commitments. Avoid making promises that you are not sure you can keep.

4. Focus on fairness. For most parties, the polar star of negotiating principles is fairness. Fairness is receiving every advantage you are entitled to, but no advantage that you don't deserve. If all parties agree to work fairly and equitably at the table, there is a solid chance for a win-win solution. If fairness is not a given, then mutual distrust will minimize the chance for settlement.

5. Be creative. Look for different ways to achieve your objectives in the negotiating process. Look for opportunities to make trade-offs and for areas in which the parties can be flexible. Often, the best solution to an impasse is a solution that neither party thought of in the beginning.

6. Focus on objectives, not on victory. In seeking for a win-win arrangement, negotiators must avoid the win-lose mentality. The process of negotiating is not about winning; it is about crafting a solution that works effectively. Identifying common interests and working to meet them can help avoid the win-loss paradigm.

7. Know when to quit. A sure way to sabotage a negotiation process is to become greedy. Particularly if things seem to be going your way, avoid the temptation to reach for too much. If a party to negotiations is seen as being unreasonable or uncompromising, then a lasting agreement can be difficult. Be aware of the feedback of the other party, and you will know when you have achieved all you reasonably can in one process.

8. Finally, beware of damaging ongoing relationships. If the other parties in the negotiations are part of a long term relationship (employee groups, clients, business partners, etc.), remember that the future of your ability to get along with the other party is more than winning or losing one isolated negotiation. Souring relationships for the future is rarely a good outcome, even if in one negotiation, you feel successful.

Just like the parties in the Middle East conflict, parties to effective negotiations must work toward a mutually satisfactory solution and preserve the ability to peacefully coexist in both the short term and the long term. Focusing too tightly on the immediate issues and ignoring the need to meet all parties' critical interests will doom the process to failure. But effectively working toward a win-win solution will build relationships and result in a positive and meaningful solution.