Collaborate With Your Competitors

Dan ShapiroThere are two sides to your business operation.  One side is the bottom line; it’s the facts, the figures, making some sort of profit revenue and so on.  But just as important to business and perhaps in some ways, arguably, more important to the modern business is dealing effectively with the emotional side of negotiation, cultivating within your organization a positive sensibility towards your organization.

I was in conversation with someone with HR recently, a leader from HR, who said, “Look, most products these days can be replicated within some three, six months.  Not much time at all.”  So what is your greatest asset these days as an organization?  It’s not the product.  It is your ability to deal well with people, both in your organization and with other organizations.  And the question then is, how can you do that most effectively?  There’s a science to help you out.  And we’ve tried to break down a lot of that science.

Putting aside legal questions, you know, if there are ways that organizations can work effectively together, sometimes they’re resigned to actually do so.  They think that, by working together, we are going to undercut our independent success, we’re going to give more to our competitor and the gain to our side’s going to be worse than it could be.  So let’s not cooperate with the other side at all. . . . 

I’d like to make a distinction between two different things: the skills of negotiation and the strategy of your organization.  In terms of the skills of your organization, any and every organization will benefit if your employees are trained in negotiation and conflict resolution.  It is one of the greatest costs to an organization, the inability for 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.  So on the one side, train everybody in the skills.  And if two leading organizations want to cooperate in terms of training your employees in negotiation, great.  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.  

The other side of this coin is about the strategy of your competitive advantage, your competitive edge.  I would not recommend you, as you’re in the midst of this negotiation training, to share your trade secrets with the other side.  You don’t need to.  You don’t want to.  if I’m negotiating with someone else and there’s certain overlapping interests -- we have certain reasons where we’re motivated to work together and yet there’s certain areas where we feel fear in sharing information -- what do you do in those kinds of situations?  Do you just avoid working with the other side altogether? . . . If there’s a way that you can work collaboratively, meeting your interests or dovetailing your differing interests, do it, but do it wisely.  

Before you start that negotiation process, defining your roles of interaction together, bring your own team back, by itself, and ask one simple set of questions: What information do we definitely feel comfortable sharing with the other side?  What information might we want to share with the other side?  And what are the secrets, the trade secrets, the internal operational issues that we definitely don’t want to share with the other side?  That simple piece of preparation can save you a lot of grief and can help you and your full team feel comfortable as you’re negotiating with the other side.  

And one of the most dangerous places -- and I’ve seen this happen -- is where you have a team of negotiators walking in to negotiate with the other side, they have not had that conversation in advance.  One person says, “Oh, oh, well we could give, you know, an additional $50 million on this contract.”  And John or Sally, right, on their own team, looks at them and goes, “What did you just say?”  Differences about what information to communicate.  If they had spent that five or ten or 30 minutes before preparing -- what information do we definitely want to communicate, might we, don’t we want to communicate? -- they would have been in a much stronger negotiating position. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

Today's companies need to learn urgently how to cultivate a collaborative, high-EQ environment -- if they want to remain competitive, says Shapiro.

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