Collaborative versus adversarial negotiation

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 15th August 2022

So, here I am, back in Oz after our trip of a lifetime to Italy and Europe. So many highlights, both personal and from a work point of view. One of them was spending a weekend with our friends Tiziana and Eric in Amsterdam. They showcased their beautiful city so well, especially when they took us on the canals in their own boat. On the Sunday they organised a surprise lunch, which involved taking the boat through the city canals, out to the Amstel River and to a small village on the outskirts of the city.

We pulled up to a dock outside the restaurant (how lucky are we), and made our way in for an Indonesian feast (which it turns out is pretty much the Dutch national dish, as Indonesia was a Dutch colony).

On arrival, Tiziana and Eric looked a bit disappointed, as the table they had sat at last time by the water was occupied. The one we were allocated was not just away from the waterfront, but it was in the sun. When they booked, they had asked for a waterfront table, so understandably they wanted to rectify the situation. So, Eric masterfully went into what I would call a collaborative negotiation.

He did not get irate, or make demands, but rather invited the manager to work with him to find a solution. He said that he was fine not being by the water but would prefer not to sit in the sun. He asked, ‘What could we do to make that possible?’ After some discussion, the manager talked to his team, and then suggested that they could move our table into another space which was not in the sun. A few minutes later we were sitting in a very acceptable position having an exceptional lunch.

I reckon the key to Eric’s successful negotiation was the collaborative nature of it. There was no ‘I want’, or ‘You should’, but rather ‘How could’ and ‘What if’. I love the question he asked. It was not an ultimatum, but an invitation. It was not closed and threatening, but open and explorative. Eric invited the manager to work with him to solve the problem in a way that worked for his team, and for us.

I wonder if there is a lesson to be learnt here about how we negotiate work and deadlines? When we are busy, and need inputs from others in our organisation, do we sometimes negotiate the work in a more adversarial way? Can we sometimes just expect that our needs are met, and our urgent demands are fulfilled, regardless of the other persons other priorities?

Highly productive people know how to get work done with and through other people. The most effective people do this in a collaborative way, rather than an adversarial way. They offer invitations to collaborate for a win/win scenario, rather than making demands. Think about the people who you like working with the most, and you might find that this is their preferred style. Of course, there are times when we all need to be directive, but that should be a tool that is used only when necessary.

So next time you need something from a colleague, think about the invitation to collaborate that you could extend, and see if you get a better result.

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