Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter April 2004

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 29, April 2004


The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


Negotiators often find themselves chasing a will o' the wisp called common interests. Parties to collaborative decision-making often feel there's a need to reach agreements in which everyone comes to the same conclusions for the same reasons.

When one looks at even the closest relationships, for example friends making a choice about what film to see, a joint agreement may well reflect different interests. For example, there's a film in current release called The Last Samurai. One friend may want to see it because she 'adores' one of the film's stars; another may find violence entertaining; yet another may be fascinated by the Japanese Samurai culture. In this situation, the common decision does not reflect common interests; it reflects complementary interests.

Using negotiation to find complementary interests is a far more realistic approach than efforts to make decisions based on common interests. Common interests mean the various parties to an agreement want the same result for the same reasons - a rare occurrence, indeed.

TNSC often talks about three C's of interests: Common, Complementary, and interests that are in Conflict. When there is significant conflict between or among parties' interests, the negotiation process can be particularly challenging.

Conflicting interests may be handled most effectively by looking first at possible common ground. The conflicting parties may disagree about almost anything involving each other - but a careful look may reveal that each has interests that can offer them a starting point for negotiating in a civilized manner. The Greek philosopher Archimedes is famous for having stated, "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I can move the Earth." For conflicting parties, that 'place to stand' may be thought of as their common ground.

Common ground should not be confused with common interests. Rather, common ground should be viewed as a minimal starting point for negotiations - where the parties have a reasonably realistic understanding of where each of them is coming from. In business, buyers and sellers may find their common ground is the understanding each wants the best price for a particular item. The further understanding that the seller wants to receive a higher price and the buyer wants to pay a lower price means that, while there is no common interest (on price) there may be the common ground recognition that one wants to sell the product and the other wants the product. Common ground gives negotiators a starting point.

In a more general sense, common ground may be thought of as a civilizing factor in how parties resolve disagreements. Recognizing that interests may differ, and accepting that those differences may never disappear, can free negotiators to pursue the possible, to be realistic in their expectations, to treat others with respect in order to achieve results that make sense under the circumstances.


After presenting courses in Arkansas and Poland, we visited Moscow to promote the Russian edition of Negotiating Skills for Managers. The US/English version of the book is about 200 pages long, as are the Spanish and simplified Chinese books. In Russian, the book is about 300 pages long.

TNSC is pleased to welcome John W. Murphy as our newest Senior Trainer. His extensive background in the aerospace industry and international negotiations in that arena make him a welcome addition to out ranks. Given our work with such aerospace organizations with Goodrich Aerostructures, Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, and a unit of the European Space Agency, John's experience is a good fit for us.


"It is not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It is because we dare not venture that they are difficult." --Seneca

Best wishes,
Steve Cohen

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