Negotiations and Expectations

Some negotiations are like sailing in and out. Others – not quite. Why do so many negotiations fail and other, while successful, still present a thorny winding road to the participants? Why should people suffer through negotiations instead of just talking?

While there may be many reasons for not actually getting what you wanted in the first place in the negotiations and feeling frustrated about the results, should we actually make our lives harder than needed? What is the reason that many people think negotiations are a hard job? Why do they get drained out in a course of a short two hour business meeting that happens to be labeled “negotiation”?

business people at boring meeting

I have a theory. It all has to do with expectations. Should you come to the meeting without particular expectations, you would be fairly objective and could actually follow the logic of the arguments on both sides, see compromises, do your job. But what happens when you come to such a meeting carrying expectations?

Expectations can never be met. It’s a rule and it is dead simple. We are all different people and different organizations. It is extremely unlikely that we think in entirely similar ways and will form entirely the same expectations from the same event. It is extremely unlikely that anything at all that happens will correspond to your mental picture that we call your expectations. And therefore your expectations can never be met.

You are frustrated at the outset of the meeting because your expectations are not met and it gets worse. Your mood is now of expecting the worst and you interpret the events towards the worst possible interpretations. We know that we do not work with the reality, we work with our interpretation of it. So now your interpretation gets skewed towards the deep end and your expectations continue to mismatch the content of the event. By the end of the negotiation you will be thoroughly depressed and depleted of energy by your own will.

I am exaggerating a little, of course, to make sure my point is carried across. Things usually aren’t that bad but they still tend to be worse than they should when you have some expectations and they get worse as your expectations multiply.

So the only reasonable way of dealing with the negotiations is to have no expectations. You may have business and personal goals but you may not have expectations. See the events as they unfold in front of you, marvel at the winding road leading towards agreement and accept things. You may not get what you wanted, completely or in part, but that does not mean you should not enjoy the discussion. By all means, do enjoy the negotiation and do not slip to the morbid side. Your life will become easier for you and you will also make the life of people on the other side of the table easier. Easier not in terms of convincing you but easier in terms of psychological pressure and exhaustion. Unless your negotiation tactic is to exhaust your partners at all costs, of course.

Mind you, an agenda of the meeting and expectations are different things entirely. An agenda serves to put some structure to the meeting so there should not be confusion now. And, again, your goals and your arguments are distinct from your expectations, so keep them separate.