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No such thing as a 'win-win' negotiation

One of the biggest myths of the negotiation process is the 'win - win' outcome, according to visiting Australian expert, Associate Professor John Onto.

In New Zealand recently to present to the Victoria University Graduate School Master of Business Administration programme, Associate Professor Onto believes there is always give and take in any negotiation.

"Win-win is the biggest myth, implying each party get all they ask for...this doesn't exist. But winning negotiations is not a myth," he says.

The successful negotiating model that he promotes is one where everyone leaves the table feeling they got the best deal they could have.

"If you can get all that you thought you could possibly get, then that's a winning negotiation," he says.

Onto believes the sense of winning comes from the way the process is managed, "as distinct from what you actually get."

He argues that negotiation is a skill and a core management competency that can be learned.

"People who are good at negotiating can be better, and people who are bad can become reasonable at it," he says.

Negotiation has an identifiable process and predictable phases with key factors central to its success.

"Preparation - you can always get some information and understanding of the other party's needs and why they are bothering to talk to you," he says.

"Most people are negotiating with you because they can either hurt or help you. It is important to establish which camp you and the other party is in.

"Furthermore you should establish what you will give up in order to get what you want."

Onto says most people don't enjoy negotiation because, by definition, it involves conflict.

"The tension of conflict deters some people," he says.

"Often you don't know you're in a negotiation until it is too late and the process takes control of you, rather than the reverse."

But this links back to the preparation phase. "By preparing properly you can deal with the conflict phase."

Onto says negotiation is constantly around us - like it or not.

"We all do it, even without realising it. From the moment we get up we're negotiating, for example who goes first in the shower, or whose turn it is to put the cat out.

"If we all learn how to negotiate, people will be able to have more effective relationships with each other."

Onto's interest in negotiation followed a transaction at a Mexican street stall where he was buying a cheap necklace.

Thinking later about the process that had taken place, he realised negotiation was applied human behaviour producing a particular outcome.

Since then he has been teaching and consulting in the field of negotiation strategies, skills and processes for 20 years. In addition to extensive experience working with industry in Australia he has taught on executive programmes in the USA, Caribbean, Europe and Mexico.

Before taking his present position at Melbourne Business School, he was Associate Dean for Graduate Studies at Georgetown University School of Business (Washington DC).

Associate Professor Onto will be returning to Victoria University's Graduate School on 21 September to deliver a one-day winning negotiations seminar. This seminar is aimed at executives in the public and private sectors.

For further information about this seminar, contact Pat Cumming, Executive Programmes Coordinator, ph: (04) 463 5450 or email pat.cumming@vuw.ac.nz

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