To negotiate, do you know the pizza trick?

A simple and effective trick… (Photo: Ivan Torres for Unsplash)

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Q. – “The further I go in my career, the more I realize that you have to know how to master the art of negotiation. I know that the ideal is to always arrive at a win-win situation. But I have to admit that I have a hard time getting there: I’m so afraid of being tricked one day that I’m very aggressive in my negotiations; and in the end, disappointment still awaits me, because I feel more like I made a compromise than I “won” something. How to correct the shooting? – Charles-Olivier

A. — Dear Charles-Olivier, I unearthed an original way of negotiating in a book that has just been released, “Split the pie” (Harper Business, 2022) by Barry Nalebuff. An author who knows what he is talking about since he is a professor of economics at the Yale School of Management specializing in the art of negotiation and has already intervened as a consultant during a negotiation between the NBA and the Players Association as well as during mergers and acquisitions of large American companies.

His approach to negotiation is prodigiously intelligent, as you will see.

According to Barry Nalebuff, the mistake we almost all make is to immediately consider the imbalance between the two camps. We believe that one wants to “win” something (for example, an employee who asks for a higher annual salary increase than the others, because, he thinks, he is the lowest paid in the company. team and it would make sense for him to benefit from a catch-up) and the other is ready to listen to the request, but above all does not want to “concede” anything (in our example, the manager who understands the logic of the employee, but does not see how to justify this kind of “favor” with others and with senior management). We only see the imbalance, and we only think in terms of it. It pushes us inexorably to seek a compromise, which cancels any chance, or almost, of reaching a win-win agreement.

The Yale professor thing? The imbalance of the initial situation must be completely concealed. The one and only thing to consider is “what is to be gained if ever a deal is struck between the two sides”.

To illustrate his approach, Barry Nalebuff uses a simple case: Alice and her little brother Bob are hungry and go to their uncle’s pizzeria. The latter offers them a deal: the pizza, cut into 12 equal slices, will be free to them on condition that they both agree on sharing; if no agreement is reached, they will only have half of the shares and they will be unfairly distributed by the uncle (4 shares for Alice and 2 shares for Bob).

The chicane hits immediately. The big sister is bigger, therefore hungrier and therefore deserves more slices. Makes sense, she says. The little brother, of course, does not abound in the same direction, he even gets angry to find himself, it seems to him, in a position where he will necessarily be a loser in relation to his big sister if they do not agree no half and half, 6 slices each. He would like empathy towards him.

Is the deadlock complete? Yes, unless you see things differently.

To arrive at a situation where everyone will really feel like a winner, you have to focus not on the 12 slices that are at stake, but on the 6 additional slices that there are to win if both sides agree. The solution is to share these 6 slices equally, so that in the end Alice will end up with 7 slices (the 4 in case of disagreement plus the 3 additional ones), and Bob, with 5 slices (the 2 in case of disagreement plus the additional 3). Everyone will therefore have more slices than if they had simply rejected any form of agreement.

When you start a negotiation, Charles-Olivier, you have to try to see it as a pizza. Yes, concretely, you have to imagine the object of the negotiation as a real pizza. With starting shares which are, of course, perhaps unfairly distributed, but above all arrival shares (“the value produced by the agreement”) which, they must be fairly shared. Because only in this way will we arrive at a final win-win situation.

In the case of the employee who asks his manager for a kind of salary catch-up, it is necessary to hide the starting situation (the lower salary compared to those of the other members of the team) to consider only the envelope available to the manager to assess the remuneration of the employees for whom he is responsible. Is it okay to give more to one than to another? What would they think if it came to light? Would the principal concerned feel good if this was done in full transparency? On the other hand, would an argument really lean in favor of the employee in question (an exceptional professional performance that year, a large client signed recently, etc.)?

Is there something about this employee’s work that has benefited the whole team and that would justify giving him a slightly larger slice of pizza than the others? It is by answering all these questions, and others as needed, that the employee and the manager will manage to find common ground, where everyone will really feel like a winner.

By the way, the Roman philosopher Seneca said: “A good is not pleasant unless it is shared”.


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