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

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter June 2006

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

Number 36, October 2006

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

In Negotiation, The Past Has No Future

"To enforce the lies of the present, one must erase the truths of the past."
George Orwell

What is going on here? Are we confusing negotiation with the authoritarian view of the future espoused by George Orwell in his novel 1984? This is one of the best quotations I have read on the relationship of the past to the present/future. Ignoring their integral connection will not work in any relationship, business or private. However, we must remember that good negotiation is not an authoritarian process, but rather a means for bringing about fair agreements.

When people negotiate, they may be influenced by their prior experience in many different ways. The cultural norms and expectations of one's family, ethnic group, nationality, or corporate silo are all significant in shaping expectations and negotiating style. Negotiating with someone who represents a profession, a corporate silo, or another cultural group with which one's own group (profession/silo/cultural) has had a troublesome history can certainly be difficult, particularly if the past problems are considered issues to be negotiated in the present.

For the negotiation process to make sense, a good negotiator needs to consider how much importance to give to the past, and how much his/her interests need to focus on the future. The negotiator also needs to understand how much importance other parties place on the past. It is also not realistic to expect any party to respond favorably to attempts to change their own view of history. In criminal law, new techniques such as DNA testing can change the outcomes of decades-old trials. In business and personal negotiation, rewriting history based on new technology is far less likely.

Negotiators who pay proper attention to the interests they're pursuing should have a better capacity to develop a clear sense of the best way to go forward in spite of a troubled history - or even because of past problems. If a supplier has a history of late delivery or failure to fulfill promised specifications, the customer may not want to spend time pursuing an abject apology- but the customer may recognize the importance of taking into account those issues when negotiating about future performance.

While George Orwell's view of how authoritarian governments deal with historical truth may ring true on the world's political stage, negotiators who are getting on with business should use what they've learned from the past to make sure that negotiations yield better future results.

Thus, in negotiation, the past is the past - whether agreed-upon or not. Negotiation is about what comes next; how we're going to reach an agreement that serves our interests in the future. Being aware of the past is sensible, but getting hung up on the past can escalate conflict. Focusing on the future, on one's interests going forward, can make the negotiation process far more productive.


2006 has been the best year yet in TNSC's fifteen-year history. We have worked with new clients in several countries and been invited to do more work with some clients with whom we had been out of touch for several years. Andréa MacLeod, TNSC's Curriculum Developer has been upgrading our programs - and this has meant tougher standards for new trainers joining our team as well as additional training/coaching for our veterans. We are developing new role-plays that address negotiation learning points from a more global perspective.

Steve Cohen was engaged by a UK company to write a short new book (about 55 pages) which should be published by the end of November. Once it is ready, we'll offer it through the TNSC website.

Final Word

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Edmund Burke

Negotiate as if the future depends on it. It does.

Enjoy your negotiations,
Steven P. Cohen, President
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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