How to Avoid Fight, Flight, and Compromise in Negotiation

In our industry there are many misconceptions about the Camp System of Negotiation. Many readers never make it past the aggressive introduction of “Start With No” and subsequently think we teach one of three approaches. They are: adversarial or anti-collaborative, end the negotiation when either party says no, and my personal favorite, “lose-lose” or “win-lose” because we don’t hold stock in “win-win.” Unfortunately, for the assumptive academics and theorists in our field, nothing could be further from the truth.

As Jim wrote on many occasions, his breakthrough in understanding negotiations came when he found a definition of the term in an old Oxford English Dictionary in Hong Kong. This is the definition for negotiation Jim found 40-plus years ago:

A negotiation is the effort to bring about an agreement between two or more parties with all parties having the right to veto.

If you unpack the elements of that definition, you are left with two conditions that must exist for a negotiation to take place:

  • efforts to build agreements, and
  • all parties having the right to veto.

Therefore, if the attempts to build agreements are removed, or if someone’s right to veto is removed, then the human event taking place no longer can be defined as a negotiation.

This all sounds very academic, but you’ve known since you were a child the three possible responses a person can have when those above conditions change: fight, flight or compromise. Without an attempt to build an agreement and/or without the right of all parties to veto, problems can arise that range from financial loss to careers put in jeopardy to outright violence.

“When they don’t respect or exercise [the right to say “no”], they are not negotiating,” Jim wrote in 2012. “They are engaging in manipulation, bullying, deception, or simply begging for a favor.”

Let’s take a moment to understand how these inferior alternatives to negotiation can arise so that we can try to avoid them in future interactions.
 

Fight

A fight occurs when one or more parties have had their right to veto denied.

This is most easily illustrated at the geopolitical level. Say you have two countries, Country A and Country B. Country A wields much more military influence, and Country A wants part of Country B’s sovereign territory.

So, Country A occupies and takes over part of Country B. Country B was thus denied its right to veto the invasion, and whatever resulting agreement the countries reach is enforced through violence, or the threat of it.

In a 2013 blog post, negotiation coach Santhosh Ebroo pointed out a key quote from Nelson Mandela: “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”

Freedom and the right to veto are inseparable, and to deny one is to deny the other. In the absence of the right to veto, conflicts often take the place of negotiations.
 

Flight

Flight occurs when one party exercises its right to veto without even attempting to build an agreement.

Flight is simply a refusal to engage. Often, when we feel we have no “leverage” or “power” we either assume the other party would never accept our proposal, or we’re not empowered nor confident enough to deliver a “No.”

This decision is usually exercised prematurely from self-induced perceptions, or weak tactical processes based on theory. We objectively and subjectively analyze the shadow on the wall, and then decide to turn the other way out of fear.
 

Compromise

Compromise occurs when an agreement is reached, yet one or more parties fails to exercise its right to veto a portion of the agreement that is detrimental to that party.

While compromise and “win-win” is foundational to the majority of what is taught today, Camp Negotiation Systems fundamentally rejects what Jim referred to as, “hopelessly misguided as a basis for negotiating,” because it damages your mindset and expectations before even engaging. Please don’t misunderstand, we know compromise may sometimes occur, but it should not occur because of the training fallacy that it is required.

Compromise is the poison pill predatory negotiators demand in one breath, while calling you a bad partner in the next. The alternative to compromise is to continue exercising your right to veto while working toward an agreement that is ethical, sustainable, and profitable. By definition those latter two qualities are very challenging to bring about if compromise is the strongest arrow in your quiver.

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