From adversary to ally

by Rachel Sproston

News every month from the world of academia

Rami Zwick, chair professor, Department of Marketing; and associate dean School of Business and Management
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Johnson Poon

Most traditional thought relating to negotiation and strategic thinking focuses on claiming value. People tend to divide what they consider to be a fixed pie and negotiate the largest portion. One tertiary institution in Hong Kong however, is now offering a programme which coaches strategists to become skilful negotiators and understand that it is possible to extend the pie for both sides and then divide it, creating an all-win situation.

Rami Zwick, chair professor, Department of Marketing; and associate dean, School of Business & Management, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, describes the skill of blending cooperation and competition to create "co-opertition", which is encouraged during the school's Negotiation Strategies and Skills programme running over a Thursday and Friday in September this year.

"Effective negotiators have the ability to reach a good agreement. In short, this means an understanding where you are better off reaching consensus vis à vis not reaching it. Strategic success depends on several key factors inherent in the process of reaching a good agreement," he explains.

The list of key factors includes preparation, which is of paramount importance, yet many people do not enter into negotiations having sufficiently prepared. Understanding the walk-away alternative is fundamental to accurately calculate the relative attractiveness of a proposal. An awareness of the emotional and cognitive nature of the negotiation process is also invaluable as negotiating is a social, rather than a pure science, and therefore unpredictable and often irrational. The ability to ensure both parties leave the negotiating table feeling achievement and success is also essential because many contemporary deals lead to further negotiations so an environment of trust needs to be established early on.

Professor Zwick is an internationally-lauded experimental business researcher and one of his areas of expertise is behavioural game theory. He utilises the interpretation of global findings from behavioural game theory studies to substantiate theories of negotiation. "Most people would say that they prefer having more money to less. Yet, we have analysed the results of extensive, often anonymous, research. The conclusions illustrate that when negotiating, economic gain is rarely the sole motivating force for the majority of society," he reveals. "Even enemies have common interests, but this is typically not being recognised as many people enter into negotiations with the belief that their interests conflict," he adds.

The programme is aimed at professionals who have no formal negotiating training. The learning tools include interactive lectures, multimedia resources, experiential cases, videos and hands-on negotiating practice in small groups. According to Professor Zwick, the overall objective of the programme is to encourage participants to appreciate the nature of human reasoning, leading to the general conclusion that "all you need is love". He continues, "People are looking for respect, reputation and face — especially if they are negotiating on behalf of a third party. It is therefore your responsibility to allow them bragging rights."

Taken from Career Times 22 February 2008
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