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Getting to We: Time for a New Negotiating Paradigm

Published October 2, 2013

Written by: Kate Vitasek
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Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek is an international authority for her award-winning research and Vested business model for highly collaborative relationships. She is the author of six books on the Vested model and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee. She has been lauded by World Trade Magazine as one of the “Fabulous 50+1” most influential people impacting global commerce.  

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If your recent experiences with new or renewal contract negotiations are something akin to visiting the dentist for a root canal, we’d like to introduce you to a much better – and pain-free! – way to go about negotiating. It’s called Getting to We: a five-step process for crafting business relationships with the intent to drive collaborative partnerships.

Getting to We is based on what we call a “what’s-in-it-for-we” (WIIFWe) mindset. The WIIFWe mindset rejects the conventional “I-win-you-lose” or “what’s-in-it-for-me” (WIIFMe) mindset.

WIIFWe is the philosophical mantra forming the structure of a collaborative and trusting relationship. Once embraced, WIIFWe has the potential to deliver a competitive advantage for the parties long after a deal is signed.

The WIIFWe mindset is slowly gaining traction as companies begin to embrace the concept that “win-win” is truly more than a nice thing to say – but has the power to bring significant bottom-line results to buyers and suppliers who truly want to unlock the potential of a highly collaborative relationship. Think “win-win” is a myth, or just too difficult? Look no further than the books Vested: How P&G, McDonald’s and Microsoft are Redefining Winning in Business Relationships and Vested Outsourcing: Five Rules that Will Transform Outsourcing for success stories.

Negotiating the true nature of the relationship under a WIIFWe mindset means that the negotiating parties move away from the usual tit-for-tat cycle of actions and reactions; instead they create a negotiation atmosphere that encourages cooperation. There are three things about a WIIFWe relationship that alter the conventional tit-for-tat strategy:

  • The players turn into partners for success through a long-term relationship where each partner strives to preserve partnership rather than muscle or intimidate their partner by moving to another supplier or customer. The old-school transaction-based business relationship becomes a strategic partnership.
  • The relationship honours and adheres to the common set of guiding principles that drive cooperative behaviour.
  • The partners live the WIIFWe approach in daily interactions and use a formal, governance structure to ensure compliance with cooperative behaviour.

Getting to We combines the WIIFWe mindset with a five-step process that is becoming the new paradigm for negotiating; it can take you and your partners beyond the handshake and the initial “yes” to a long-term business relationship that’s based on collaboration, trust and sharing value. The philosophy and process are explained in detail in our new book Getting to We. Getting to We’s five-step negotiation process changes the goal of the negotiation from simply getting the deal done to forging a long-term, win-win partnership. Following the Getting to We process revolutionises and transforms modern agreement negotiations – because the relationship itself becomes the focus of the deal.

So what are the five steps?

1. Getting ready for WIIFWe.

The first step looks at three foundational elements for a successful collaborative relationship: trust, transparency, and compatibility. When the parties complete this step they will have a good idea whether there is a solid foundation to move forward. If they don’t, they can work on solidifying the relationship, and then continue. Completing this step enables partners to determine whether a WIIFWe mindset has merit for them and whether they are willing to explore establishing or renegotiating a highly collaborative relationship.

2. Jointly agree on a shared vision for the partnership.

The parties discuss and create a shared vision for the partnership. Each party enters the discussion with their own vision, of course. But then the parties transform those separate visions into a shared vision, giving the partnership its purpose far beyond a series of transactions. Further, it will guide the partners, not only throughout the negotiation process, but throughout the term of the relationship.

3. Collaboratively negotiate the guiding principles for the partnership.

The Getting to We process demands that partners not only improve the relationship but also abide by a set of core principles that flow from true commitment to trust: reciprocity, autonomy, honesty, equity, loyalty and integrity. This is the critical step that distinguishes highly collaborative relationships from average functioning relationships. The principles provide the mindset to support the partners on their journey to live in a WIIFWe partnership. Without guiding principles to prevent opportunism and competitive tit-for-tat moves partners will not behave in a collaborative manner with each other.

4. Negotiate as We.

It is now time to begin to negotiate the deal. Partners following the Getting to We process should not start by negotiating the details of the deal such as the scope of work, pricing, and terms and conditions. Rather, they must first establish the mechanisms they will use as they negotiate those details. This includes agreeing on the “negotiation rules”, the strategies and tactics, and the methods for ensuring the deal is fair and balanced, especially when it comes to how the parties deal with risk allocation and creating value. Once the partners have agreed to these mechanisms, they will use them to achieve a consensus on the deal’s specifics.

5. Living as We.

At this point the partners have reached the final stage of the journey: living as We, which occurs when they maintain a focus on the shared vision and guiding principles throughout the life of the relationship. Because relationships are dynamic, the partners choose to focus on relationship management by taking actions and measures required to keep it highly collaborative. The principles continue to play a critical role by driving the partners’ daily behaviours.

In the Getting to We approach, the relationship becomes the focus of the deal, throughout the life of the deal. That’s why Getting to We is a paradigm shift that takes business agreement negotiations far beyond signing on the dotted line.

Are you ready to move beyond simply getting to “yes” to Getting to We?

This article originally appeared in Outsource magazine Issue #33 Autumn 2013.

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