In negotiations, givers are smarter than takers

Viewed in The New York Times.

Many books and articles have been written about deal-making and what does and does not work for those involved in trying to get opposing parties to agree to terms that are mutually agreeable and beneficial to both parties in negotiations. 

Perhaps the most iconic book on the subject, The Art of the Deal, by the 45th President of the United States, can be summarized with this statement: “Be a taker,” New York Times opinion writer Adam Grant writes in this column.

But is that always the most successful approach?

Grant cites the predicament of Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, who was charged by the United Nations with building support among 195 countries for a global environmental agreement.

She hit a major obstacle with Saudi Arabia, Grant writes, whose economy is famously dependent on carbon-based energy production.

Ultimately, however, Figueres brought Saudi Arabia around not by forcing the agreement upon them, but in identifying what other countries could do for Saudi Arabia to help secure the Saudis’ agreement to it.

She shifted discussions to what these other countries could give, and soon found out that the Saudis were actually very focused on diversifying their economy beyond the carbon-based energy sources on which their economy was largely dependent.

This was a goal with which other countries could be immensely helpful.

In this story lies a larger lesson about negotiations, Grant contends. Sometimes giving in negotiations proves the more successful approach.

“If the other party takes a selfish stance three times,” he writes, “instead of competing all three times we seem to be better off cooperating anyway once. “

“When we give unconditionally from time to time, we give them a reason to change.

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