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A coParent’s Unified Approach to Negotiation

A negotiator can see the universe in one of two ways: as many separate, distinct parts randomly thrown together, or as one unified whole.

Lori Denman-Underhill
Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes.

A negotiator can see the universe in one of two ways: as many separate, distinct parts randomly thrown together, or as one unified whole.

The separation approach leads to trying to gain or retain control in negotiations. The unified approach recognizes that every action has a universal dimension. When we negotiate using this unified approach, we abandon our egos but not our goals. The negotiation conducts itself, and we see the individual actors as vehicles through which energy flows.

I’ve experienced this firsthand. When a negotiation is going well, it’s happening on its own. In contrast, when a negotiation is blocked, I’m very aware of my self in the equation. Sometimes I lose my connection with universal energy and have to deliberately reestablish it. Some people do this through meditation, or deep mindful breathing, or time alone, often in nature.

I do it by practicing what is called qigong, an internal martial art that consists of slow movements to activate qi (life force) in the body. Pulling qi from the earth and the heavens, and mingling it with my qi, I feel the energy in my own microcosmic universe fed by the energies around me. Connection on this level supports my intuition. I can sense the world moving through me. I can also sense when things are out of balance.

When you negotiate in an interdependent way, as part of the universe, you are open and vulnerable. You naturally practice humility, act beyond narrow self-interest, and strive for commonality.

As the Dalai Lama puts it, “This self-other overlap is considered to be the basic, undifferentiated core of all these beneficial effects, as it is difficult to be biased and prejudiced violent… if you see the other as being the same person as you are—in a partial, psychological way at least.”

This unified approach to negotiation reminds us that we can’t separate from each other. It also reminds us that we can’t separate today’s actions from our future. Some people call this consequences or outcomes; others refer to it as karma. Goldstein brings them both together when he points out that karma is the understanding that as human beings, we can only truly claim responsibility for our actions and their results. “When we integrate this realization into our lives, we pay more attention to our choices and actions, and to where they are leading.”

The way a negotiation is conducted is a fairly good predictor of the way the relationship will play out if both parties come to agreement. Certainly, energy of the negotiations, whether positive or negative, spills over into the subsequent relationship.

It’s also true that the way your negotiation partner (or their organization) treats you today is likely to represent how they will treat you tomorrow or the next day. A strong foundation in the present helps create a positive future. We must constantly be aware of the costs and consequences of our negotiating behavior. For example, if you try to extract more than your partner can live with, you might gain something in the short run, but cause resentment that lingers long a er the deal is concluded. Sometimes, rather than lose goodwill, you might be wise to settle for a bit less, so that your negotiation partner feels reasonably satisfied.

When you negotiate with strength, leverage, humility, empathy, respect, and fairness, fully aware of the cause and the effects of your actions, you increase the likelihood of achieving success—both in the current negotiation and in future ones.

If you try to deny someone else the satisfaction of a reasonable bargain, you are essentially stealing from them, the universe, and yourself. The candidate interviewing for a job who insists on an unrealistic salary; a person who uses unequal bargaining power to extract unnecessary concessions from a neighbor just because he or she can; the CEO who imposes an impossible delivery date—all of these negotiations will ultimately fail in the end, even if the deals are consummated.

The employer who agrees to pay an exorbitant salary may mistrust the employee’s loyalty. The neighbor who was backed into a corner may become an enemy instead of a friend. The vendor who agrees to the impossible delivery date will either miss it or become utterly exhausted while working to meet it. All of these outcomes can be avoided by simply paying attention to the consequences of present actions.

When we ignore the rest of the universe and focus solely on our self-interest, we find ourselves caught in a web we didn’t even realize had been woven. But when we negotiate with the entire cosmos sitting at the table, we can move toward agreement as smoothly and as speedily as possible.