Negotiation: A major everyday activity

NEGOTIATION is such a pervasive human behaviour that we can observe it taking place even before the child can speak.

David E Harrison,industrial psychologist

The child quickly learns to control parents’ behaviour when food is either needed, or not wanted. The threat of a bellow is quickly averted by yielding to the non-verbally expressed wishes, the threat being very loud verbal (or noise, non-verbal) punishment!

The child continues to do deals and, by maturity, behavioural habits and reactions have been so modeled, moulded and habituated that, as adults, we find it difficult to escape from these, often counterproductive, patterns of behaviour. Some researchers claim that parents should be constructive, positive models, whereas others argue that the erratic, relatively easily manipulated behaviour of the majority of parents is a natural and necessary feature of the social environment, preparing the child to cope with the vagaries of “real life”.

My own position is that our history of negotiated deals ever since childhood manifests in our current behaviour. The role behaviours that we adopt as husbands, wives, parents, children, employees, etcetera, are either the direct, or the implicit outcomes of this history.

In most cases we do not even realise that our “habitual” behaviour was, at an earlier stage, actually learned through negotiation. We usually cannot recall these formative experiences. So we unknowingly perpetuate our bad habits by following what psychiatrist Dr Eric Berne refers to as “scripts”.

The above diagram shows many of the potentially beneficial effects of negotiation on human life. The use of language in negotiation is a feature which permits much greater complexity and effectiveness than is possible for other large-brained primates. Accordingly, negotiating skills are an essential aspect of being human, with many valuable uses. So why is this topic totally ignored worldwide in schools, and very seldom taught at university level?

Only recently has negotiation been introduced as a subject for study in universities. However, if you Google “negotiating skills” you will receive 5,49 million references in 1,3 seconds. Accordingly, as with so many other areas of interest and importance, we have much better sources of information on negotiating now than were available “pre-internet”. We can educate ourselves on this important area of competence.
I focus in this article on ways in which your study of negotiation might be of direct assistance in daily life.
Negotiation in the family

Berne (Games People Play, I’m OK — You’re OK and What do you say after you say hello?) argues cogently, with in-depth illustrations, that, as adults, we compulsively follow “scripts” of behaviour generated through dysfunctional family relationships in childhood. He categorises behaviour as “parent” (authoritative, dominant, bossy) “adult” (mature, constructive) “child” (immature, seeking immediate gratification, irrational).

The formal study of such relationships, in much greater depth than possible here, is called “transactional analysis” (TA). Now there is a fancy term for us!

On top, father’s irritable parent is saying: “Be a man, but don’t act smart,” while on the bottom his jeering child is saying: “Act stupid, ha ha.” On top, mother’s doting parent is saying: “Be a man, but you are too young yet,” while on the bottom her child is daring him: “Don’t be a sissy, have a drink.” In between, his father’s adult, with the help of his uncle, is showing him the proper way to drink.

The above introduction to Berne’s work illustrates one example of the way in which alcoholism can be initiated in the parent/adult/child negotiations between family members. The “script” is set for “alcoholic” behaviour later on. Of course, many other scripts can be similarly developed. I recall a mother (as child) declaring proudly in the presence of her children “I have never read a whole book in my life.” (Most books should be selectively read, but this is not the point she was making!)

Spousal relationships

In a chess game against an opponent of roughly equal basic ability, what would be your
chance of winning if the opponent were to be allocated 20 minutes per move, against one minute for yourself?
The obvious answer is that your chances of winning would be negligible. In a household in which the wife works in the home, and the husband has a formal job, the wife will normally have much more time to examine the relationship. She will think about her “moves” in inter-spousal negotiations for roughly 20 minutes to his one. Also, she is more likely to have discussed potential “moves” with other wives.

Accordingly, the wife will usually have been more thoroughly “coded” or prepared for the “deals” that will take place between them. Despite their advantages, even the better prepared spouses in this example will make numerous errors in negotiating, as would the chess player with more time.

Knowledge of openings, and end-game strategies are as valuable for our chess players as is the study of negotiation in preparation for the multitude of interpersonal deals we do throughout our lives.

Sibling rivalry

Often a mother (as child) mischievously gives “unfair” portions of food to siblings, and then enjoys (but complains about) the rivalry thus created. The conflicts which she created became a gratifying source of attention which is possibly not matched in other areas of her life.

So the mother, unaware that she is responding to her personal reward structure, continues to manipulate with the helpings of food, and the siblings’ conflicts become a general behavioural pattern. The “damage” to the siblings can endure into adult life, and may lead to resentment if they at some stage understand what had been happening to them. Ideally, the better negotiator plays the adult, as child she (or he) can cause lasting chaos!

Further examples of damaging scripts, learned early and counterproductive in negotiations, are: learning to negotiate often requires “unlearning” the dysfunctional scripts which we habitually apply. As you educate yourself about negotiation, you will become more aware of the mistakes you have made, and how to avoid such losses in the future.

Harrison is an industrial psychologist, senior consultant and managing director of Human Resources (Pvt) Ltd, an industrial, commercial and agricultural consultancy and training organisation. — 0242-700 867, 700643 or Mobile: 0772 400 220, E-mail: hres@ecoweb.co.zw or hres263@gmail.com, Website: www.hres.co.zw. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. Mobile: +263 772 382 852 and e-mail: kadenge.zes@gmail.com

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