Conflict of Interest.

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Many inexperienced negotiators think of the negotiation process as akin to entering a long, dark tunnel. They are moving into a process that they don’t understand, and they have no idea what is going to happen. Feeling out of control—often because they fear conflict or confrontation—these people do a number of foolish

Truth is, all of us have fallen into one or more of these traps, so let’s take a good look at how people most often go wrong:

• Sometimes we have no clear objective or desired outcome other than to “get something,” “do better than the last time we negotiated,” or “get this done quickly.” Negotiators who do this seldom achieve good outcomes because they had no clear objectives to begin with—unless the other party is also equally unclear and unprepared. To quote the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there!”

• Sometimes we formulate a desired outcome or objective and cling to it desperately, refusing to compromise or modify their objective based on what the other party wants. This plan usually winds up in angry exchanges or a standoff with no satisfactory resolution. (We call this digging in. We don’t recommend it.)

• Sometimes we may formulate a desired outcome or objective but then surrender it too quickly in order to get the conflict resolved. This usually leaves us with a deal we regret later; most negotiators who do this have a lot of regret that maybe they could have done better. (We call this caving in and don’t recommend it either.)

• Or we may change our desired outcome or objective midway through the discussion, leading the other side to believe that we may not have a strategy, don’t understand what is going on, don’t know what we want, or, worst, are intentionally being difficult. This often happens when our own mind wasn’t made up, or because the
other’s behavior led us to believe we would never get what we wanted. When we do this, we often anger the other party, which can lead to the breakdown of talks or a settlement that makes little sense down the road. (We call this error zigzagging and will specify ways that negotiators can avoid doing this.)

You can avoid these common errors, and many more, by preparing carefully for the negotiation and by walking through it step by step. Usually there is a recognition period in which you become aware of and concerned about a conflict of interest.
Instead of leaping to a premature effort to close or resolve, the master negotiator explores the conflict at this stage, sounds out the other party, gathers information, and explores his or her own feelings and needs as well. Next, the master negotiator selects an appropriate style and approach to reach the goals most productively. In this book, we stress collaborating and competing as the dominant strategies to pursue, but there are other alternatives, and
we’ll show you how to use all of these strategies.

Notice that we’ve suggested a variety of actions in the beginning of your negotiation, all of which precede the normal give-and take of offers or disputes. In this book, we’ll help you slow down the initial steps of your negotiations to allow a little more breathing room and time for thought and insight. Negotiating should be a careful process. Don’t rush it