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Technology & Innovation

Collaborate With Your Competitors

What’s the Big Idea?

Your colleague asks whether you agree with her perspective on a key issue, forcing you to take sides. Your six-year-old throws a fit just before bedtime, demanding to stay up later. Your partner will do the dishes, but only after you’ve taken out the trash. 

Human beings are born negotiators, says Dan Shapiro, director of Harvard’s International Negotiation Program. From the day we’re born, we’re constantly making our case and trying to convince others to agree with it.

Watch the interview:

Negotiation is everywhere — and everywhere there’s negotiation, there’s emotion. The way we choose to navigate these heavy conversations matters on both a micro and a macro level, influencing the quality of our marriages, the success of our businesses, and the political stability of our world. 

But “who gets what” is not a zero sum game. In an interconnected global society, the most powerful communicators are not out to mercilessly destroy the person sitting across the table from them — they’re looking for a win-win scenario. 

Shapiro’s thesis: every modern organization has two imperatives. The first is the need to know the facts and figures. The second is the need to deal with emotional negotiations, which will help cultivate a positive sensibility towards your organization. The greatest asset any modern company has is not it’s product, but its people — meaning that dealing with the emotions that inevitably arise from employees’ (and employers’) different, often conflicting, needs and desires is more vital to the bottom line than ever before.

Every organization will benefit if your employees are trained in negotiation and conflict resolution.  One of the greatest costs to an organization [is] the inability [of] people to deal well with their differences and, just as true, it’s one of the easiest things to actually bring and train in the organization… Train everybody in the[se] skills.  

This idea applies on an organizational level, as well. New research suggests that there’s a pressing need for public and private sector organizations to foster collaboration both internally and externally, by forming partnerships to solve problems. “If two leading organizations want to cooperate in terms of training your employees in negotiation, great,” says Shapiro. “Send them to a university; send them to a private firm.  There will be net gain for everybody.  You’re still going to be competing, but there’s net gain for everybody.” 

No one wants to give away trade secrets, but collaborating with your competitors doesn’t mean you have to delve into all the little details that make your organization unique. Instead, determine: What information do we definitely feel comfortable sharing with the other side? What information might we want to share with the other side? What do we definitely not want to share with the other side? Then go from there.

The bottom line — power in the 21st century is about making alliances, not coming out on top. Give your professional (and personal) rivals a reason to join you rather than oppose you. They might just take you up on it. 

What’s the Significance?

Wondering where to start? Shapiro has identified five core concerns of negotiation. These are the emotional fundamentals that drive both individual and organizational cooperation. 

The five core concerns are: 

 1. Appreciation. Do you feel heard and understood and valued by the person you’re speaking to? Do you think they’re feeling appreciated by you?

2. Autonomy. Autonomy is in the eye of the beholder, but everyone wants it. A deal that’s presented as open to input has a much higher chance of being agreed upon than the same deal, presented forcefully. Instead of saying, “Take it or leave it,” try approaching it this way: “Look, I love your advice. Let me get your input; there’s a decision that’s being made/ I’d love to get your perspective on this.” Regardless of your title, it’s an important way to show respect, and it’s the difference, says Shapiro, between being perceived as someone who’s coming in and telling people what to do versus someone who is consulting with his or her team. 

3. Affiliation.  Evaluate: What’s the emotional connection like between you and that other person, and that other group? Do you feel close and connected or do you feel distant, alienated, treated like an adversary? If it’s the latter, do what you can to shift it, and align yourself more closely with the person you’re negotiating with.

4. Status. Respecting people’s status is the best way to ensure that they contribute — more often than not, their engagement will help strengthen the deal. 

5. Role. Do people have a fulfilling role, a meaningful role in the negotiation?  “So as you are negotiating with your family member tonight, with that spouse that you’ve been having trouble with; as you’re negotiating tomorrow morning on that project management team with that difficult other colleague, how do you try and craft roles that actually can help you work more effectively?” asks Shapiro. His advice: instead of assuming you’re adversaries, invite the other person to take a different kind of role. Take the lead by saying, “let’s sit down for five minutes and try to problem solve these differences together.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock/AISPIX by Image Source.


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