A couple of posts ago I introduced the concept of “Win-Win” outcomes or “Happy-Happy” negotiations as I prefer to think of them. One of the biggest challenges with this idea is that it often seems like an impossible dream when the two parties negotiating appear to have fixed positions which are mutually exclusive.

Great negotiators recognise that negotiating over fixed positions is a guarantee of failure in many situations. They know how to change the level that that game is being played on, in order to open up new, mutually beneficial solutions. This technique is called chunking up.

Imagine a situation where two men are sitting in a library arguing about whether the window they are sitting beside should be open or closed. One man wants the window open whilst the other wants it closed. The librarian, hearing the commotion comes over to investigate. How does she solve the problem?

Of course she could just impose a solution like throwing them both out of the library for making a noise or side with one or the other. The canny Librarian however has another trick up her sleeve. She askes the man who wants the window open “Why do you want it open?” and he replies “because it’s stuffy in here and I’d like a little fresh air.” She then asks the man who wants it closed “Why do you want it closed?” He replies “Because I don’t want a cold draft on my neck.”

The solution now becomes simple. She opens another window a little away from both men, providing fresh air but avoiding a localised draft. Now that’s what I call a Happy-Happy result.

So what lesson can we learn from this? Well the Librarian chunked up a level from their original position of the open/closed window by asking why they wanted their respective positions, thus opening up the possibility of a new solution which could satisfy both parties.

So next time you are in a potentially sticky negotiation remember the wisdom of the Librarian and stop arguing over positions. Instead start to explore why your opposite number wants what they want and also why you want what you want. Chunk up and your much more likely yo uncover the roots of a new and effective solution.

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