One of the realities of today’s organizational world is that authority as a tool to impose decisions has given way to the more subtle influence of negotiation as the principle modus operandi for getting things done. The simple reality is that because of the nature of complex or clunky organizations, decisions cannot be made by fiat. Mandates are ineffective in turf-ridden environments with competing interests and priorities. And the same is true of smaller, more entrepreneurial enterprises. Leaders who appreciate the fluidity of the innovation process also understand that negotiation is essential for them to meet their goals and reach their potential. In both clunky organizations and their agile counterparts, leaders must consider when–and when not to–negotiate.
Agenda movers should consider the following guidelines when making the decision to negotiate. There are situations when the decision to engage in a negotiation is a no-brainer:
1. When the issues are of critical importance. Sometimes there is an issue that is so important to the leader, that he or she would “do anything” to have it achieved. That “anything” is fulfilled by negotiation–where some compromises can be made to get the desired outcome.
2. When “having it your way” will have possibly negative consequences. Leaders have the advantage because they can make an executive decision without having to pull the decision through an onerous consensus-driven process. That said, a decision made in haste is often regretted. That executive decision may have unintended consequences that will create more problems than the original decision was intended to solve.
3. When there is a long-term relationship. In a long-term relationship, most decisions are the result of negotiation. If decisions are not made by outright negotiation, then they should be made deliberately, and with the interests of the other party in mind. In a relationship sustained by trust and commitment, it would be foolish to undermine the other party for a small perceived gain. Negotiation provides the critical lubrication that keeps the relationship moving ahead.
4. When there is a chance the leader may be wrong. Even if the leader can go it alone, negotiation gives the leader an opportunity to test the strength of the ideas or position and the opportunity to make modifications (far from the eyes of potential critics).
As wonderful as negotiation is, sometimes not negotiating can be just as strategic and advantageous as negotiating. There are certain situations where an agenda mover may opt not to negotiate:
1. When there is time pressure.Negotiation takes time. If a decision has to be made and there is no time to pull together the parties who will be touched by the decision, sometimes the leader has to take a deep breath and make that decision. If decision is not universally palatable, some sort of negotiation may take place after the fact to improve the situation. Even so, the leader’s obligation to make a decision–even an unpopular one–needs to be recognized.
2. When there is no common ground. If the parties involved do not have convergent interests, a leader may rightly ask what the purpose of negotiation is. It may not even be necessary. Negotiation also may not be necessary if the other party is all powerful. Although engaging in it may benefit you and your counterparts, negotiation may not be possible if they have absolute power. In this case, they would not need to negotiate with you- they could deal with the issue themselves and attain all the benefits of doing so.
3. When the stakes are low. Sometimes leaders may choose to “give in” to the demands of the other party when they don’t necessarily care about the outcome one way or another. By allowing the other party to have what it wants, the leader is signaling that he or she is interested not only the health of the current relationship, but also in the well-being of that relationship. On the surface, it may appear that the leader is capitulating, but in reality, he or she is paving the road to the future. A word of warning: what the leader sees as a one-time gesture of goodwill, the other party may see as setting precedent.
4. When the leader wishes to marginalize the other party. When a leader negotiates, he or she is indicating that the other party has something that they want or need. That said, sometimes the act of recognizing and bringing the other party to the table may provide them with the stature and resulting capability to sabotage the leader’s efforts down the road. As noted above, not negotiating is a strategic decision, and ignoring someone can be more effective than shouting them down.
There are specific situations where a leader may choose not to negotiate. That said, if the leader is concerned about the issue at hand, is interested in fostering a positive long-term relationship, and the alternatives to not negotiating are too costly, then the leader is better off negotiating. Remember that negotiation works best if both parties recognize that the other has something to offer that will collectively help them achieve their goals.
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