Values Based Negotiations

September 23, 2011 – While discussing in last month’s newsletter how best to achieve the essential buy-in for engagement from the perspective of setting goals, we mentioned different approaches towards negotiation. Let’s begin this month with clarifying what is meant by negotiation.

We all recognize that negotiations take place while reaching agreement on contractual terms. Consider however how, in its broadest sense, negotiation is found in any communication between two or more people or two or more mindsets or positions. When you communicate with a prospective client or employee, that is negotiation. Discussions with your spouse about what movie to watch are negotiations. In short, any discussion which takes two differing viewpoints and attempts to reconcile them into one, is a negotiation.

What about internal conversations we have with ourselves while attempting to decide between two alternatives? Are these negotiations?

The answer to this question is a resounding “YES,” for the simple reason that these internal conversations are designed to help us decide between two alternatives. How these internal conversations take place bears consideration. What factors do we take into account during such internalizations? What values do we consider? How do we determine which value takes precedence over the other?

As we’ve discussed before, the question “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM) comes into play. To make an honest determination of which value takes precedence over the other, we need to clarify which of the two choices more readily helps us achieve our goal. Here we begin to consider the distinction, highlighted by Edward Deci in Why We Do What We Do, between individualism and autonomy. Individualism is not merely the mindset which tells us that we are free to act in our own self-interest. Individualism is far more than that. Individualism, as espoused by Ayn Rand among others, dictates that we must in fact act in our self-interest and to our benefit even at the expense of others. This is the selfish nature of individualism, for it places 100% of value on our individual self-interest and 0% on any possible benefit or harm to everyone or anyone else. It’s hard to imagine any society existing for long utilizing the mindset of pure individualism.

This is a prime example of a good and necessary idea being taken to an impossible extreme. The good and necessary idea of individualism is twofold: WIIFM and the power to choose. These two ingredients at first blush seem to be the central ingredients leading to autonomy which is a key and necessary predictor of full engagement. Left unchecked, however, they lead to selfish individualism.

The checking mechanism is the self-regulatory balancing of our values, i.e., self-negotiation – the balancing of opposing values. Our WIIFM answer must be tempered by the net result to others of our actions. We are social creatures, we live in society and we benefit from living in a society. As such, not only is it a moral imperative, it is also in our self interest to broaden our perspective and consider the implications of our actions and their impact on society in general and all members of the society in particular. As John Dunne famously wrote:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…”

Consider also that over half of the 24 character strengths of positive psychology deal with relationships between people, i.e., among members of society. The true measure of a person is, therefore, his involvement with mankind. That is the universal value of being human.

Awareness of our internal values and bringing them to the fore – living our lives in accordance with these values – is the critical method to exercising the checking mechanism. Our values, then, are the litmus test of whether negotiations based on WIIFM truly and correctly lead to autonomy and full engagement.

Adam J. Krim                                                                                                                                 

About Adam J. Krim

Adam works as a Certified Professional Coach, delivering soft skills training seminars on a variety of topics, including Time Management, Harnessing Stress, Decision Making, Problem Solving and more.
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