Holiday Cookies and the Art of Negotiation

by | Dec 30, 2014

When I was little, my mom would make these awesome sugar cookies for Christmas.  The ingredients were pretty basic—the usual flour, sugar, butter—but she’d add a hint of orange peel so they had a wonderful scent of fresh citrus. Then my sister and I would have a blast decorating them, slathering on so much frosting that only a kid would consider them fit to eat. (Yes, my dad ate them anyway.)
But then came the year that, in the rush of holiday preparations, we forgot to buy the oranges. (OK, Dad forgot to buy the oranges.) He had to work late and mom was baking the next morning. He ended up snagging some oranges from the cafeteria fruit bowl at his work—some quick thinking on his part—saving both Christmas and his marriage. I’ll never forget those awesome cookies and the wonderful memories of the citrus flavor that made our holiday just a little extra special at the Barger house.
Many years later I’m reminded of this joyful memory every time I share “The Parable of the Orange.” I tell this story (a favorite of faculty in this space) when I launch every new cohort of CorpU’s Mutual Gains Approach course, part of our Sales Negotiation Academy. The story goes something like this:


Imagine you and I both remember at the end of our lunch hour that we planned to pick up an orange from our office cafeteria. We descend the stairs to the appropriate floor and enter the cafeteria from opposite ends. We spot the fruit bowl and see there’s but a single unclaimed orange. We converge on the lone orange and simultaneously reach into the bowl to take possession of it. Each with a firm grasp on the orange, I tug a little then you tug a little. I look you in the eye to let you know my position on this matter: I’m going to have that orange. You do the same.

The next thing we know we’re rolling across the cafeteria floor. Our colleagues have gathered around—some cheering, some in shock that they’re actually witnessing this childish behavior. After several tumbles I say: “Stop! Okay, you can have half of the darn thing.” So I find a knife and cut the orange in half. I peel my half, eat the fruit, and throw away the rind. And aren’t I surprised when you peel your half, throw the fruit in the garbage, and keep the rind. What’s going on here?

It turns out that we weren’t interested in the same thing. You weren’t looking for a snack: you were looking for orange peel, part of a holiday recipe you were making.

In this parable, our positions were incompatible: we each wanted the orange. Our interests—the reasons we wanted the orange—however, were not only compatible, but complementary. In fact, had we simply inquired about what each of us was truly interested in, we could have quickly (and less embarrassingly!) resolved our negotiation, such that both of us would have been twice as well off as simply cutting the orange in half.

Figuring out (preferably before you start rolling around on the floor) what the other party really wants—and realizing it may be different from what you assume they want—is at the heart of CorpU’s Art of Negotiation Program. The courses in this program are based on The Mutual Gains Approach (MGA), which is a time-tested and proven framework for interest-based bargaining developed and taught today in Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. What this approach allows you to do, as the name of the framework suggests, is more effectively work toward negotiated solutions that allow all parties to benefit from the outcome. It helps negotiators quickly determine the critical interests of all stakeholders and build packages of options that create value for everyone (on both or all sides) whose interests are represented at the bargaining table.parableoforangeblog
In this program, even beginners develop the skills to be able to say, “Here are the four issues we’re really talking about. Can you help me understand why each is important to you? How would you prioritize them? I know you’re very concerned about price (or insert interest here), what if I could offer this set of options at this price? Would that work better than this other set of options at this other price?” Ultimately, the ability to apply core MGA principles allows negotiators to prepare more effectively, generate better outcomes and develop improved relationships with their counterparts. Who wouldn’t include these as core elements of their negotiation success criteria?
We’ve had clients tell us they apply Art of Negotiation principles to everything from product sales to contract renewals, and performance appraisals to raising their children. They reach agreements faster, save money, generate revenue, build better partnerships, and close deals feeling much more satisfied than with traditional bargaining. And, all the while, they’ve acquired a solid framework for negotiations that can be cascaded throughout their organization.
Getting something you want during a negotiation—whether in business or in your personal life—is great. But when everyone leaves the bargaining table satisfied with their piece of a much bigger pie (or orange…or sugar cookie), that’s even better.

Mike Barger, Ed.D is CorpU’s Chief Operating Officer. Previously, he was a founding member of JetBlue Airways. He created and led JetBlue University, the award-winning corporate learning function that provides learning and development to all JetBlue crew members. Prior to JetBlue, Dr. Barger served as a carrier-based Fighter Pilot and Flight Instructor in the United States Navy and led the Instructor corps at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). He holds a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in learning leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan.

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