Philosophy of Negotiations


My three year old nephew shouts at the top of his lungs, makes a yucky face and tells my bhabhi that he will eat the tasteless dal only if the video is on! After telling him that it will be only for one min, bhabhi switches on the video.

Negotiations are everywhere. We negotiate on little, inconsequential things like a pillow to border issues. Where there are relationships there are negotiations. What is at the root of negotiations? I believe, following two are at the root of negotiations.

A) Information gap and

B) different means/strategies to meet our needs

My nephew has a need for entertainment and bhabhi has a need for nourishing him. The little nephew has currently only learnt to satisfy his need for entertainment only by shouting and using food as leverage. These are different strategies to meet different needs. Bhabhi limits these videos only for a minute so that she can also use this as a leverage for future dinners! This is the information gap.

Both A and B are inherently bad. People do hide information on purpose however that is a sign of trust gap and at many times, it is impossible to explain everything from our context to others. This leads to information gap.

Second, all needs are beautiful and valid. However we might have different needs and more importantly different ways of fulfilling those needs. We might not be aware of other ways to fulfill needs, be afraid to try new ways to fulfill those needs and thus we engage in negotiations. In the above example, Bhabhi is teaching Arham to see comics for entertainment. Teaching him to speak that “I am bored” instead of shouting. These are different ways to fulfill his needs.

No philosophy is complete without the discussion around EGO. And EGO is at the heart of n-EGO-tiations! One classic mistake all of us make in negotiations is to be myopic on our own needs. If we are stuck here we want to convince, cajole, justify, argue and even force others about why only our needs are valid and why we are sticking to only our strategies for fulfilling them. This is the extreme version of being egoistic in negotiations. It will invariably lead to conflicts, impasse or breakdowns.

On the other end completely surrendering to others needs will lead to submission and later resentment. Negotiating from complete desperation is futile. Such partnership never lasts. It is a silence before hurricane. When it breaks and does more collateral damage. The pressure, negativity and poison builds up and eats away at the person who never stands up for their needs.

Service and making sacrifice are different. Acknowledging and letting go of my needs voluntarily is different. I am doing it out of awareness. There are intentions of larger good. I mourn the needs that are not fulfilled however I also celebrate the new found depth in connection.

Who will think of my needs if not me? However the key to successful negotiations are not to think of ONLY my needs! That is the key to interdependence and NVC! If I perceive myself as ‘strong’ and I am just thinking of my needs, it is not sustainable. There is no fulfilment of ego. It is a bottomless pit. The more I care only for self the more I want and the more I try to exploit others. It all comes crashing down very soon. If I perceive myself as ‘weak’ and I am thinking of only my needs, I am finding limited creativity to fulfill it. I am too short sighted. I keep surrendering and play victim to get exploited.

Only when I am truly powerful I can think of mine and others needs. This required inner power. Power to empathize and be connected to self. Only if I try and understand other’s core why and what drives them, I can articulate myself in their language. I can find ways to collaborate. This will fulfill everyone’s needs. Once done, this promotes trust and interdependence. This interdependence of needs. Negotiating win-win is what drives long term peace and progress.

When we talk about philosophy we also have to include and think about Outcomes. Ego is attached to outcomes. Outcomes are narrow and limit our imagination. Outcomes are rarely in our control. Thus a wise negotiator focuses on their inputs and process. Constantly improving on process and inputs can give outcomes far beyond our imagination.

Lastly, intentions or mindset while approaching negotiations. Again this is very closely tied to Ego and Outcomes. Are outcomes the end or the means to attaining outcomes equally or more important?

When I am able to transcend my ego, I am focused on learning and building relationship with other person. If I am able to crack this code, it becomes a sustainable stream for me to fulfill my various needs! It helps in developing trust. Information gaps reduce and I understand the other person. It can be a very fulfilling relationship where a pie truly expands! To do this I have to approach each interaction with a learning mindset instead of jumping to conclusions.

An example : I have seen many newly married, typical urban couple face challenges around sharing finances. If they are too outcome focused and think only about their money, relationship doesn’t go beyond a certain level. Money is a strategy to fulfill deeper needs. Needs around safety, entertainment, power, status etc. If partners take time to understand what are these deeper needs getting fulfilled by money for them and their better half they can have a much wider and broader discussion.

For me money has always meant empowerment that means I want to take calculated risks and buy assets that have potential for future cash flow. This also means that some money will be lost and there is a risk. For my wife money means safety. This means she wants to be conservative and ‘save for a rainy day’. We regularly have conflicts around this. However when we are able to remind ourselves of what this money means to each one of us, we can quickly reach solution on how to invest the surplus! In the process we also develop deeper understanding of each other! The focus on outcome of investing surplus money is very narrow. Our endeavor is to constantly improve how we take that decision. It’s a bridge full of fire! We are not always successful in crossing it.

To summarize, I wish I can keep my ego at bay during nEGOtiations. I am focused on my preparation and the process of negotiations rather than the outcomes. Lastly, that I approach all my negotiations with a learning intention/mindset so that I am constantly learning about other’s needs.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: