How we look at the amount of available resources will determine our stance in any given negotiation. If we believe that everything is finite and the more you get the less there is left for me, that means that I have to shaft you in order to get more for myself.

If, on the other hand, we can find a way to generate more resources in the first place, then there may be ways for all parties in a given negotiation to win. Think of it not like a pie to be sliced up and doled out, but more like handing out water in a rainstorm- or better yet, like lighting other people’s candles from one person’s flame. Giving other people fire doesn’t diminish the original flame even though the original fire is still spread. Very win-win.

There have been many negotiation books written using this paradigm- I think I remember a famous one called Getting To Yes (by Fisher and Ury? If this isn’t the right one, please forgive me, but I don’t have time to go back and check right now…). The Harvard Mediation project did lots of research into how people could generate win-win negotiations, rather than the more traditional paradigm of you win-I lose. A friend blogged about this a few days ago in the context of helping her children learn to resolve arguments ( , and I realized that this would be a great thing to blog about (rather than the usual complain-y stuff I have been tending toward lately).

Here’s how it can look in real life: a company’s employees want more money and better health benefits. The company is small and strapped for cash. It seems pretty untenable, and the more one side gets its demands met, the less happy the other side will have to be. But what if they can think outside of this narrow box? What if the company can say in good faith, “Listen, we have no extra money, but what if we would offer you extra vacation days and no more work on the weekends? And we can’t buy more expensive health insurance at this time, but what if we partner with the gym down the street- we will give them our services (printing or advertising or computer services or widgets) and they can give our employees free gym memberships to help them stay healthy? In addition we can hook you guys up with free massages every Friday since we also so some work for the physical therapy school down the road…” In this way, the business can offer its employees perks that may meet their needs without laying out cash they don’t have and the employees don’t feel like they are getting shafted by having to work for a company that can’t give them more money or a higher level of health insurance. It isn’t what they walked in asking for, but they can all leave having needs met that weren’t originally even on the table.

Sometimes in a negotiation, you have to look behind the stated demand to figure out what the person really needs and not just what they are asking for. Sometimes a person asks for money because what they really want is acknowlegment or respect. Sometimes a demand for a material thing is really a request for a more emotional need. This is why a smart boss will sometimes give an employee a corner office in lieu of a raise; because they know that the ego needs feeding as much as the pocketbook. Often in relationships people will get irrationally upset about something when actually the issue is something altogether different. So the person who is up-in-arms that she wasn’t given an expensive enough baby gift might really just be upset that she feels you don’t value her friendship or don’t care about her now that she had a baby. If you can see past the words into the need behind it, you can often solve the problem before it escalates.

The problem many people fall into is that we are primed to feel like we are in a resource-scarce environment. We are jumpy about the concept of other people getting something to the point where even when someone wins the lottery, which realistically you had no chance of winning, instead of being so happy that some poor sucker now has a better life, you begrudge the fact that it wasn’t you. Most people’s first thought is ‘Gosh Darn It! That should have been me!’ We are not in touch with the idea that there is constantly money flowing all over the place, and contests being won, and refunds being sent out, and random checks being issued that were completely unexpected- the universe is full of money- not even to mention the vast amount of other resources that are available – and they are always in a state of coming and going. This isn’t some hippy-dippy thing that I am saying. Just think about finding money, or when you or someone you know have gotten an unexpected check in the mail or a raise that you didn’t think you would get… If you look at the free stuff on craigslist or freecycle you will see boundless kindness just waiting to be picked up. People give away everything to each other.

I remember once in college meeting a guy who produced a ‘zine (Does that date me? Do those even still exist? For those of you who don’t know, it was a very low budget newsletter type of thing- like a self-published magazine with a cult following…)Anyhow, his was very cool with lots of rambling poetry and some art photos interspersed- many of friends of mine from the Detroit Cass Corridor scene. I wanted one, but I was a broke student and he asked me what I had to trade him for a copy. I told him honestly, “I don’t think I have anything you would want…” And he said, “I kind of like your earring…” So I gave it to him and he gave me his ‘zine and we both got our needs met. Incidentally, the next few times I saw him around town, he was wearing my earring, and I thought it was super cool. But the moral of the story is that if you can think outside the normal parameters of how transactions take place, you can often get what you want/need and both parties will leave the transaction better than they came in with neither of them being diminished.

In families this works the same way. How many times does a mother baking have to tell each kid that one can lick each beater, one can lick the spoon, one can lick the bowl, and one can do this, that, or the other… There were many times I had to either purposely get other utensils dirty (use a spatula to “smooth” the batter, or a fork to swirl color, or another spoon to stir it extra, or whatnot… lots of kids means lots of sharing!) or find very exciting jobs to bribe kids to give up their treats. In games, the child who doesn’t get the color piece he wants is often the first to get to roll the dice. For doing chores, the one who is stuck with the “worst” one may be the one who gets the best job the next day- and so on. However you can sweeten the pot to balance out the ledger. But the more creative you can be, the more you can make people happy, and the more you can think of currency as not just being money, but also time, respect, energy, benefits, extras, intangibles, excitement, the more you are in the win-win zone.

Good luck, and enjoy the journey!