To each their own: Technological solutions to negotiation

Last weekend, my daughter and I went to Home Depot. As a means of making the errand slightly more interesting, I let her bring her LeapPad – basically a miniature iPad for learning. During the drive, she was playing her LeapPad, and I was listening to my music. Apparently the music was interfering with the LeapPad’s lovely sound effects, however, as she pointedly told me to cut the tunes.

Ha! I thought. Here’s a solution that will make life negotiable. I’ll put the music entirely in front and on the driver’s side, allowing me to enjoy my music Leap-free. And she, in the back seat on the passenger side, can enjoy her LeapPad music-free.

Then ha! I thought. What a perfect topic for a blog post, as technologies like these provide a wonderful way of achieving everyone’s goals concurrently. And technologies like these abound: Different temperatures for different sides of the car, individual lights for individual seats on planes, separate TVs for each machine at the gym. Technologies like these offer a metaphor for success in many negotiations, since solutions that meet multiple parties’ most important goals at the same time are good solutions.

At the same time, the music solution led me to wonder whether the effects of these technologies and the solutions they enable are uniformly positive. Yes, my daughter got what she wanted, and yes, so did I. But we both got what we wanted by essentially ignoring the others’ needs. Is that really the best kind of solution that two people—particularly two family members—could reach to a problem? Perhaps not. What if I had asked her to tell me more about her game and why the sounds matter? What if we had agreed to listen to her Leap Pad on the way to Home Depot, and my music on the way home? Or agreed to play her LeapPad games without their lovely music? Or agreed that her learning was more important than my entertainment? Or decided on an entirely different solution, like talking to each other on the way to Home Depot? Perhaps one or more of those solutions would’ve not only met our needs but also helped us to understand each other better at the same time.

So what’s the point? The learning, for me, is that technologies like the ones in our car can be incredibly powerful for helping multiple parties meet their needs, but that meeting needs is not the sum total of a successful negotiation. A successful negotiation not only meets the parties’ needs but also leads the parties to a greater understanding, thus bringing them closer together and more likely to thrive in their future negotiations. So next time, I’m going to resist the pull of the radio settings, and try a different approach instead—one that enables me to better understand my daughter’s needs at the same time. You see, not even negotiation professors profess to know all the answers. But we do profess that all of life is a negotiation, meaning that opportunities to learn about negotiation and make life negotiable are all around us.

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