What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘negotiation’? A corporate setup? Men in suits, shaking hands over a deal? That’s the perception most of us have, without realizing that we’ve been ‘negotiating’ for one thing or another more frequently than we think- and no, negotiations at work are only one type of negotiation, not the only one!
Today’s Led By session on Negotiation by Joan Moon was one that widened perspectives for all of us. Joan highlighted that negotiation can be formal as well as informal and our negotiations in everyday settings happen more often than we realize. Joan went on to define negotiation as mutually beneficial problem solving with creative trade-offs and tactically resolving the underlying conflicts.
Even before the session, the pre-read titled ‘negotiating an apartment search’ gave me a reality check. As I read through the article, which revolved around Maryam’s search for an apartment, I realized I knew many ‘Maryams’ personally. So many Muslim women I knew were denied accommodation in metropolitan cities because of their religious identity, and hearing the personal experiences shared by other fellows throughout the workshop, Maryam’s story just felt closer to home.
But Maryam’s story didn’t make us feel sorry for her, it made us feel empowered. Maryam had been looking for an apartment for herself and her brother, but her search had been in vain as landlords either looked down upon two single individuals as ‘irresponsible’ or viewed them through biased lenses of islamophobia. While initially, Maryam saw many deals fall through; she was determined to turn things around and secure an apartment- and she did! Sensing a pattern to the rejections, Maryam strategically used sequencing and subtle signaling to secure herself an apartment, shattering the biases that were acting as hurdles. This real-life negotiation, coupled with Joan Moon’s insightful teachings and strategies, widened our perspectives.
The session started with a brushing up of the vocabulary around negotiation, with us going over the 7 element framework; followed by a broader, more in-depth understanding of negotiation and its process and how it is intertwined in our everyday lives.
The infamous ‘Orange story’ of negotiation, as shared by Joan, is a simple, yet meaningful example highlighting the importance of positions and interests in the negotiation. In this story, two children are fighting over orange and their mother simply cuts the orange into two halves, dividing it equally among her two children. She only took the positions of her children at face value; the ‘what do they want? without thinking about their interests. She later realized that one of her children wanted the fruit, to eat it while the other only required the orange peel for zest. The follow-up to a position must be the interest; the ‘why’ do you want it? It is the position, along with the interest that sets the ground for productive negotiations, otherwise, we’d be negotiating counter-productively, just like the mother did.
From reading the case study on our own to analyzing and breaking it down alongside other fellows in breakout rooms to learning about the strategies involved in negotiating from real-life settings as shared by Joan, there was a constant exchange of ideas, alternatives, and perspectives that kept us brainstorming, learning and unlearning throughout the session.
What really struck a chord for me was how personal and transparent the session was. We spoke about racism, gender biases, islamophobia, and other problematic systemic structures that constantly weigh us down. Joan highlighted the sexist belief that men who employ tactical thinking to get work done are termed as ‘strategic’ while women doing the same are termed as ‘manipulative’. As women, the intersectionality of problematic structures within society forces us to negotiate more often, formally as well as informally. We’re maneuvering our way around these structures, most often overtly, but many times covertly as well and this is where negotiations come into play in our lives; to create that win-win situation for yourself, despite the odds.
Towards the end of the session, we had our biggest takeaway- In the words of Joan Moon “Learning negotiation strategies does not make everything okay….Negotiation will not change a broken world, but it’ll help you navigate a broken world”. This powerful take on negotiation will always sum up the art of negotiation for me, professionally as well as personally. At the end of the day, we’re all Maryam; determined to move forward despite the roadblocks set up by society.
Author: Uzma Shakra is a Led By Fellow. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.