The Invitation to Unnecessary Compromise
What is the poison that resides at the heart of the big lie that is win-win? You’ve heard of the deadly stuff. It’s called compromise. Many negotiators play the win-win game with an implicit invitation to debilitating early compromise on the part of their unwary adversaries, who are, in turn, almost programmed into this fatal mistake by the mantra of win-win. Those smooth-talking negotiators don’t compromise, but they demand that you do. (In the case of corporate purchasing departments, I guess their compromise is that they’re buying from you instead of from someone else.) And all the while, they put the happy face on their negotiations. GM acquired the deserved reputation of being a bully, so it and all the other big purchasing companies learned to be even more diligent in their use of win-win rhetoric, playing on our old-fashioned, all-American, Dale Carnegie instinct to win friends and influence people. They say,
“Let’s team up on this, partner.” They play on the time-honored American tradition of collective bargaining. In fact, almost every recent book on negotiation – many dozens, if not hundreds, including academic texts and popular paperbacks alike – structure their wisdom and advice around legally mandated collective bargaining in labor relations (the National Labor Relations Act of 1935): negotiating in good faith, give-and-take, compromise. In collective bargaining, a negotiator can be sent to jail for failing to bargain in good faith – for rejecting win-win, in effect. It should be no surprise that many win-win gurus in this country were educated and trained in this field. In and of itself, tightly regulated collective bargaining is fine.
So is generic “bargaining in good faith.” Of course you want to bargain and negotiate in good faith. I insist on it with my clients. But when the tiger across the table says, “Now, Denise, Tom, you have to consider our legitimate interests here. We have to have a little good faith here, a litde win-win,” what is Denise and Tom’s first thought? It’s probably that they have to give up something if they need to sign this deal – and of course they do need to sign this deal, it’s such a big one for their company. They have allowed themselves to be subtly manipulated into feeling responsible for the results reported to his boss by their adversary.
They’re nice people, so they compromise in order to help their adversary become a winner, too, though they have no idea what makes him a winner. When naive, eager-to-earn Denise and Tom are negotiating with a cunning tiger w h o has also read the win-win books, they are in terrible jeopardy.
Please remember this: The negotiators for many of the dominant multinationals are tigers. Most if not all of the great businessmen and businesswomen are tigers. I dare you to walk into the negotiating cage with them or their colleagues or a team of cost optimization negotiators while using one of the win-win textbooks as your bible. If you don’t believe me, please check with suppliers for a certain worldwide delivery company and for certain retail clothing companies. Please check with smaller companies who deal daily with the giants of the Brave New Economy out on the West Coast. And I can assure you that negotiators in Saudi Arabia and Japan don’t know about our American tradition of collective bargaining – or if they do, it’s in order to take advantage of the negotiator who comes to their table with that mind-set. Was Ho Chi Minh playing winwin games in those fateful negotiations over Vietnam?