Do you like to negotiate? Most people don’t.

Think about the last time you worked hard to get something that was really important. No doubt you had to negotiate to get it. What was that feeling like? According to Joe Hernandez who wrote the article “Why We Hate To Negotiate,” “If you are like most, you recall the experience as stressful and frustrating.”

Whether it’s buying a house or a car, aiming for a promotion or raise, or making a resource request for more time or people to complete a critical training project, the entire process of negotiating can be tough both mentally and emotionally — the prework can be frustrating, the back-and-forth can be stressful, and the aftermath can leave us wondering for quite some time whether or not we got a fair deal.

What if negotiating was different? What if we looked at negotiating from a different perspective? Consider this perspective from Aristotle: The persuasive negotiator is a leader of character, not a petty haggler. What if the perception we have toward negotiating wasn’t negative, but instead positive? What if there was more than a “win-lose” outcome?

In his seminal book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey discussed the possibility of creating win-win situations, writing, “Think win-win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.” This runs counter to the classic view of negotiation, which usually posits that there is something to be won and lost, that getting what you want is a matter of being tougher and craftier than the person with whom you are bargaining.

As Covey suggests, aiming for a win-win negotiation can be considered a form of collaborating. This may seem counterintuitive from convention, which suggest the “tendency is to view negotiations in competitive terms rather than collaborative ones,” according to the research from Alison Wood Brooks. In her Harvard Business Review article, she labels this tendency, or mindset, as “the fixed-pie bias.” This bias limits (or outright prevents) our form of negotiating from being collaborative. We compete to get the most pie possible. Over time, this “fixed-pie bias” reinforces a habit that perpetuates a zero-sum game between us and our negotiating partner. Any negotiation with fixed-pie bias present is often one-sided, short-sighted and reactionary.

Covey also astutely noted that win-win thinking derives from those with “integrity, maturity and an abundance mentality.” Such values imply something a lot more than a win-lose mindset, something much more than fixed-pie bias. It’s a bias toward abundance; a mindset that a larger pie can be created among negotiating partners when positive engagement and collaboration are present. Therefore, outcomes are something even more than a win-win scenario. Is that even possible with negotiations?

The answer is yes: It’s called the Mutual Gains Approach (MGA) to negotiating. The characteristics described by Covey are at the heart of the Mutual Gains Approach to negotiating. One of the foundational components to the Mutual Gains Approach is value creation and value distribution. The more value you can create and distribute, the easier it will be to reach a final negotiated agreement.

ChatGPT describes MGA this way:

The Mutual Gains Approach to negotiations is a collaborative style of negotiation that seeks to find mutually beneficial solutions to a problem or dispute. The focus of this approach is on creating win-win outcomes, where both parties involved walk away from the negotiation feeling that they have gained something of value.

At the heart of the Mutual Gains Approach is the idea that negotiations are not just about reaching agreement on specific issues, but also about building relationships and establishing trust. This is achieved through open and honest communication, active listening, and a willingness to consider the other party’s perspective.

One of the key elements of the Mutual Gains Approach is to identify and address the underlying interests and needs of both parties. This involves exploring the reasons why each party wants what they want and seeking to find ways to satisfy those needs in a mutually acceptable way. This can often involve creative problem-solving and brainstorming to come up with new and innovative solutions.

Another important aspect of the Mutual Gains Approach is to maintain a positive and constructive attitude throughout the negotiation. This means avoiding confrontational tactics and instead seeking to build consensus and find common ground. This can be facilitated by establishing clear and respectful communication guidelines, such as avoiding personal attacks and focusing on the issues at hand.

The Mutual Gains Approach can be applied to a wide range of negotiations, from simple business transactions to complex international negotiations. It is especially useful in situations where the parties have a long-term relationship and where the outcome of the negotiation will have a lasting impact on that relationship.

One of the key benefits of the Mutual Gains Approach is that it can lead to more sustainable and long-lasting agreements. By seeking to find solutions that benefit both parties, the risk of future disputes or renegotiations is reduced. This can save time, money, and resources in the long run, and can also help to establish a more positive and cooperative working relationship between the parties.

However, it is important to note that the Mutual Gains Approach is not always appropriate or effective in every negotiation. Some situations may require a more competitive or adversarial approach, and some parties may not be willing or able to engage in a collaborative negotiation process.

In conclusion, the Mutual Gains Approach to negotiations is a valuable tool for creating win-win outcomes and building strong and positive relationships. By focusing on the underlying interests and needs of both parties, and maintaining a positive and constructive attitude, the benefit of the Mutual Gains Approach is realized in the immediate negotiation process and outcome, as well as the established positive relationship between parties that will prove valuable in negotiations between them in the future.

Professor Hal Movius has said that negotiation is perhaps the single greatest business skill we can acquire. And while honing skills as a negotiator has obvious tangible benefits, the true value of negotiation comes from our ability to connect and work constructively with our teams, key partners, peers and managers.

It is very likely that the principles of Mutual Gains Approach are intuitive to you, as a learning and development (L&D) leader. Preparation, creating and distributing value, and following through to foster positive relationships — all while engaging with the value needs of your fellow negotiator — are typically core competencies of strong, positive leadership and team building.

Whether you are a team leader or team member, you negotiate. In many ways, negotiation is nothing more than formalized collaboration. While you may be honing your skills for better negotiating, you are likely well-versed in the value of collaborating among your team, and the values and attitudes you use to engage your team, learners, peers and manager are the same that will serve you well as a negotiator.

So, what is your mindset now about your next negotiation? As you ponder the question, remember when negotiating that the parties involved often have more than one goal, objective, or concern in mind, and therefore have more than one issue to resolve. As you prepare for your next negotiation and start the engagement, collaborate toward common ground and hold true to your personal and professional integrity, be kind, and overcome fixed-pie bias with an abundance mindset.