Win-Win Isn’t Always the Way to Go

Nothing annoys me more in a negotiation than someone who overuses “partner” and “win-win” in the first five minutes.

Once I stop myself from rolling my eyes at them, I ask them to define those terms. What do you mean by “partner”? Can you give me examples of other negotiations where you have succeeded at obtaining a win-win outcome? What are you willing to share with us that proves you are really our partner?

Cynical, right? For good reason. I don’t trust that a negotiator understands how challenging win-win is to achieve if they are infatuated, and even almost gushy, about the concept. Win-win is not the only negotiation strategy available to us. It takes a mammoth amount of time, preparation, and creativity. The negotiation steps you need to take to achieve win-win are very time consuming. Sometimes, it’s just not the most effective strategy to implement, and it’s important to recognize that from the beginning.

Other Options

In our Negotiate Smart™ workshops, I often challenge the participants to look at the concept of win-win cynically. Sometimes you actually do just split the difference, or accommodate, or even play hardball. It depends on many things – How much time do you have? Is your counterpart accommodating? What is the “trust temperatur” of your relationship? How important is the agreement?

For example, in a recent negotiation with another consultant, I accepted his proposal to split the difference between our offers. Why? The value of what we were negotiating was not significant or worth spending time on. The split was fair. I could have asked for a small trade, but I was satisfied with the split. Time over savings, the split made sense.

There have been other times when I have just said yes. Why? Because I needed to rebuild trust. Perhaps I missed a deadline or was not able to deliver something I thought I could. In that case, I will accommodate or agree to an offer lower than my target; but, I make it clear I am doing this to rebuild trust.

Finally, hardball is certainly not any seasoned negotiator’s first choice. It creates hostility, which usually results in time consuming challenges when implementing any resulting agreement. If I am dealing with a hardball negotiator I take extra care to make sure I have a solid, viable Plan B. Then, if I am not getting what belongs to me (given the facts on the ground) I will intimidate or threaten to ensure they know I am serious. Sometimes, that is the only language they speak.

Win-win is ideal; it’s the Olympic gold medal for sure. In the long run, win-win pays off for everyone. Attaining a true win-win agreement is exciting. But, it isn’t always attainable, or desirable given the leverage, timing, and value. Just remember, you have other options.

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