The Harvard Business Review recently published an article outlining an interesting strategy which should make negotiations more civil, speedy and fair.
It works like this. If the other side’s position is unreasonable, one’s initial reaction is often to be just as unreasonable, believing that the issue will be resolved somewhere in the middle, and thus be reasonable. This may ultimately be the result but often only after investing a lot of time and money to get there. It stands to reason that if the parties come to a negotiation with realistic starting positions, the negotiations that follow should be relatively civil, speedy and fair.
But how can a negotiator who wants to be fair at the outset be sure that his or her counterpart will do the same? This is where the “final-offer arbitration challenge” can help to reach fair agreements efficiently. It works like this: To encourage reasonableness, one side should make their offer demonstrably fair from the outset. Then, if the other side is unreasonable, they should be challenged to take the offers to an arbitrator who must not compromise, but must choose one or the other offer. This approach should result in offers that are more aligned from the beginning. Thus it is to everyone’s benefit if the parties come to the negotiations with reasonable offers in hand.
This is not unlike the way thoughtful parents have resolved disputes between two siblings. Have one cut the last piece of cake in half, and have the other choose first.