Here’s a simple reminder—a negotiating tip: bargaining is not negotiating.
Sure, it seems obvious and it’s not a difficult concept to get. Yet, it’s almost instinctive to think that negotiating means compromise. We’re conditioned from birth to compromise, to believe that compromise is always best, and that negotiation is compromise. Compromise has its place, but it is not what negotiation is all about.
Most of us learned from a very early age that compromise was the solution when, as kids, we’d argue about food or a toy. Our parents would split it in half and send us on our way. Settled. Done. Compromise is fast, it’s easy, and on a quick glance it looks “fair.”
As adults, there’s a strong inertia towards negotiating the same way. Each side puts what they have on the table and then split it in half. That’s what encourages us to bargain. And bargaining is not negotiating.
One of the biggest problems with bargaining and compromising too early in a negotiation (say, for example, at the beginning of it) is that it avoids more creative solutions that might well have satisfied both parties fully. Compromise assumes that one party’s satisfaction must come at the expense of the other party’s satisfaction. But there’s no reason to jump to that assumption—in fact it’s often incorrect.
One definition we like to give to define “a good compromise” is a solution that dissatisfies both parties equally. Why should either party be dissatisfied?
Why not look for a more collaborative solution? Indeed, finding the solution most likely to satisfy both parties most fully all but requires at least some investigation. It will nearly always be a solution that was not apparent at the beginning of the negotiation.
Compromise and bargaining has its place. But that place is not at the beginning of a negotiation. One thing that can help avoid the pull towards compromising too early in a negotiation is to make compromise a conscious choice.
By making the decision to compromise a conscious choice, you avoid the knee-jerk tendency to go there by default and you avoid starting the negotiation with compromise. Doing so puts compromise back in its place—one tool, of many, in the negotiator’s belt.