The French author, Andre Marois, once wrote that: “Business is a combination of war and sport.” And to be sure, business is often compared with competitive sports and warfare, a black and white world of winners and losers, where the mighty triumph and the weak are conquered.
But the truth is, business is not a zero-sum game and it’s not fought on battlegrounds. Rather, business is about building and sustaining relationships – relationships among customers and companies, relationships among managers and employees, and relationships among governments and industries. In business, communications is more important than force and knowledge is more valuable than size.
As the articles in this edition of the Ivey Business Journal clearly explain, communications, knowledge and cooperation are the hallmarks of effective negotiation – and essential strengths in a business world driven by relationships. As Steven P. Cohen points out in his article, negotiation is not about winners or losers or who’s right or wrong. Rather, it is a “process that yields an agreement each party will willingly fulfill … and any process that leaves a party feeling like a loser will reduce the loser’s enthusiasm for honouring – and fulfilling – the deal.” He makes a powerful case for the importance of a collaborative mindset in negotiations. He demonstrates how negotiating parties that treat each other like partners, not competitors, and that share information instead of hiding it, fulfill the near-term deals that lead to enduring business relationships.
In The New Age of Negotiation, Linda Stamato describe show negotiation is becoming an increasingly popular subject in both business and academic circles. She reveals how overly competitive negotiating styles just don’t work anymore. Citing the latest research, she underscores the importance of framing and conducting negotiations as opportunities to understand the other party’s interests, not just to advance your own position.
Leigh Thompson and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli explain that the highest level of negotiation success occurs when “the best possible negotiated outcome for both parties has been achieved”. To rise to this level, negotiators must come to the table with a complete understanding of the other party’s positions and interests. They must remain flexible and open to different options. They have to ask the right questions, share information and strive to bring new value to their negotiating outcomes.
Negotiation is not a game and it is not a battle. It requires communicative and cooperative skills – precious skills that are difficult to develop. As Thompson and Leonardelli point out, “Improving your negotiation skills is a long journey that involves constant reflection, awareness and openness to feedback.” In a world where building and sustaining relationships is paramount, this is one journey every business leader must take.