Negotiating Tip #65:
The Basic Problem in Internal Negotiations
This series of tips about internal negotiations is based on material in the Harvard Business Review Press book Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide for Business Negotiators by Bill Sanders and Frank Mobus.
Most internal negotiators—like negotiators in general—err on the side of acceptance or avoidance. They give in or give up. Say you and your colleague enjoy having lunch together, or maybe you play on the company softball team. Who wants to fight within the family? Our social norms lead us to swallow our differences, especially with people we know to be sensitive or short-tempered.
To avoid bruising someone’s ego, we shut off debate before it can lead to something fruitful. We get stuck in tacit stalemates. Each party perceives the other as the obstacle. What’s worse, neither is willing to say so openly. To avoid giving offense, people sidestep sticky issues like enforcement or postdeal accountability. They become magical thinkers, hoping for the best.
The social virtues of silence are reinforced by our survival instincts. Many organizations send the message—verbally or nonverbally—that falling into line is the safest way to hold on to our jobs and further our careers. Our research shows that silence is not only ubiquitous and expected in organizations but extremely costly to both the firm and the individual.
Our interviews with senior executives and employees in organizations ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 corporations to government bureaucracies reveal that silence can exact a high psychological price on individuals, generating feelings of humiliation, resentment, that contaminate every interaction. Breaking the silence can bring an outpouring of fresh ideas from all levels of an organization—ideas that might just raise the organization’s performance to a whole new level.