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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Be careful - every conversation is a Negotiation!

How to thrive in life, work, and love
by Steven Brown

In my personal and professional development activities I have spent many hours on the subject of negotiation. In addition I have explored the nuances of language in communication, assertiveness, power and relationships. As I have experimented with various techniques and incorporated new skills in my everyday life I have come to believe that we live with negotiation at every turn. I like to tell people that every conversation is a negotiation.

To most people the word negotiation means conflict, a fight of cunning skill over some object to be acquired in exchange for other resources. This derives from what is called a Scarcity Mentality - where the individual(s) involved believe there is a fixed pool of stuff that is available for discussion. That the "winner" comes away from a negotiation with more of the stuff. The alternative to this approach is known as an Abundance Mentality. Where an individual believes that even though there might appear to be a fixed pool of stuff, that with creativity and a willingness to flexibly examine what you value, more can be exchanged.

Abundance and Scarcity

Some other terms have been created to categorize negotiations: Win/Win, Win/Lose, Lose/Win, and Win/I-Don't-Care. Win/Win is where each person is after the win for themselves AND the other party. Win/Lose is an orientation to Win by forcing the other party to Lose. Lose/Win is an orientation to sacrifice so the other party Wins and likes you. Win/I-Don't-Care is the notion that you Win, and the other person's outcome doesn't matter to you.

They might also be called Abundance/Abundance, Abundance/Scarcity, Victim/Victor, and Scarcity/Destruction. I added different labels to illustrate the flair with which Scarcity can be applied. It's very important to know which situation you're in so as to not only maximize your outcome, but sometimes even save the other party from themselves. I believe that frequently people are predisposed to Scarcity because they feel like everyone around them is that way and they need to survive using those tactics. In fact they usually are creating their own reality. As a person that tries to operate from Abundance, I perceive I have an opportunity to invite others to see, learn, and work with me in Abundance.

There is a negotiation training tool called the "Red Black game" which can provide exactly this Scarcity vs Abundance mentality experience, if facilitated properly. Two teams of people enter into a series of potentially identical negotiations. They are very simple negotiations (similar to the Prisoner's Dilemma), so the only real complexity is deciding between Abundance and Scarcity.


One of the more fascinating dimensions of negotiation is how language can play a very important role. I believe that language represents what people really think. That may sound overly simplistic. A consistent observation I have made is that as people learn and grow, they begin to adopt more positive and precise language to represent their thoughts, feelings, and what they want.

What this leads to is the realization that conversations are negotiations. If you look at a conversation as a connection, as building a relationship, as creating potential to influence, you are negotiating. Maybe for the future, or maybe in the moment. You are developing an impression in others of your propensity for Abundance or Scarcity. People are drawn to those who are Abundant. People share more with those that are Abundant. Negotiations are easier with those who are Abundant.


There are many dimensions of this short post. The one I hope you latch onto here is Abundance versus Scarcity. I believe that all other dimensions of negotiation are tactical skills. Even planning a negotiating strategy to win is tactical, if you've already decided to operate from Scarcity. How do you view negotiations?

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