Don't Cooperate Yourself Out of Business

We too often give away the store

Fight or Fellowship?

One of the great topics of contention among negotiators is whether to be soft or hard, understanding or hostile, welcoming or threatening. As in everything, we at She Negotiates and the brainiacs over at the Harvard Program on Negotiation, recommend balance, as does negotiation superstar Robert Mnookin who penned this eye-opening blog post many years ago.

To balance empathy with assertiveness in your negotiations, begin by assessing your approach to conflict. Could the negotiation trigger within you a tendency towards competition, accommodation, or avoidance? By thinking about how you are likely to respond in a particular context, you can begin to replace your unproductive negotiating strategies with more rewarding ones.

Ready yourself for the assertive component of negotiation by practicing your story - saying out loud what you want, why, and how you can help the other side meet their needs. Revise and rehearse your story until you think it's strong and persuasive. Then make a list of your key points so that you will be able to recall them when the negotiation begins.

To practice and display empathy at the negotiating table, ask your counterpart to present her view before you present yours. Listen without judgment, and make it clear that your understanding does not necessarily indicate agreement.

If you're thinking hey, I wish my spouse or teenager would do this, you've come to the right place. The only "hard part" is that it's up to you, not your spouse, teen or co-workers. It's a challenge - but a worthy one - to always be the one who takes her part in it, apologizes, makes amends and fosters reconciliation rather than stalemate or open hostilities.

Start, as Mnookin suggests, by listening. Be accountable and, if an apology is called for, give it without hesitation and without hedging. Then lay the possibility of reconciliation on the table like this: Our relationship is more important to me than our fight and certainly more than being "right." How about you?

Trust in our nature.

We are evolutionarily inclined to be cooperative rather than combative, slightly favoring peace over war, togetherness over separatism, agreement over argument.


Because "[g]roups of highly cooperative individuals have higher chances of survival because they can work together to reach goals that are unattainable to less cooperative groups." And, as Scientific American noted, evolution is about the survival of the fittest group, not of the fittest individual.

Let me say that again, evolution is about the survival of the fittest group, not the fittest individual.

So gather your allies about you. Learn what each member of your group needs, desires, fears, prefers and prioritizes. Engage in a group effort to find a solution that serves as many of everyone’s interests as possible.

But don’t be taken as a fool. If someone is intent on enriching themselves at the expense of the group or by excluding the well-being of one or more members of that group, you must retaliate. You don’t start a civil war or start lobbing grenades over the ramparts.

You say,

I’m working on the group’s behalf and your behavior indicates that you’re working only for yourself. We need you to be a little more cooperative. If not, maybe you’re not sure the group has your back or maybe you don’t have ours. Let’s talk about this diplomatically and then decide whether it’s best that you stay or go.

That’s an example of the kind of script we write for our clients when they just don’t know how to respond in a hostile work environment. If this is you, give us a call and see if we can be of help. If you book a free 15-minute hello call with me, we can together see whether you could use our help. My calendar is here.

Book me before the mean girls run you out of business.