Here’s a tip from a businessman in Minnesota to our leaders in Washington, D.C., and to elected officials everywhere: “win-win” negotiation works.
I’ve used a method called win-win in business negotiations and in dealing with people generally. It’s a practice I studied in the 1980s at Harvard Business School, where I took classes to improve my management skills and business results.
Win-win negotiation requires that you listen carefully while negotiating to discover what issues matter most to your counterpart. Then you must be willing to work toward results that do not necessarily provide 100 percent of what you hoped to achieve, but give you some significant progress while providing your counterpart much of the same.
This was not a method that came logically or naturally to me. I was brought up in a very competitive family and played sports during my school years. I came of age believing that if I won, my opponent lost. If I negotiated a good deal for myself, I needed to best my opponent.
I first tried the win-win method in business while negotiating the purchase of companies and in generating additional sales for our companies. I found it not only worked well in those situations, but was also very practical in dealing with employees and my own family members.
Win-win was particularly useful to me while serving in the Minnesota State Senate, where I served in the Republican minority for 10 years. A win-win approach helped me rally the bipartisan support needed to pass legislation that helped our citizens.
Following the win-win pattern I’d studied, I set goals I wanted to achieve that I felt would be helpful to our state and its citizens. I discovered that members of the opposition DFL Party had similar goals, but their pathway to achieving them was not necessarily the one I would choose.
In negotiating with them, though I always wanted to achieve my ultimate goal, I was willing to select issues that were important to me while acknowledging that they had goals that were important to them. The result was that we crafted legislation that did not fully meet my goals but was a large step forward to help those I represented. My counterparts emerged with a similar view.
While I served as Senate minority leader, Roger Moe was majority leader. Even though we had differences, we found that by working together there were many areas where our experiences and goals were similar. We were able to build upon these when looking to pass legislation that helped Minnesota citizens.
While in public office, win-win helped me see that each bill was not a final achievement. I came to see lawmaking as a process. I continued to work on my goal each legislative session by taking small but positive steps at each opportunity.
I’m now a former elected official, reviewing the current political environment as an interested citizen. I hear too much of “I want it my way or nothing” from today’s politicians. Who does this help? Certainly not the voters.
Elected officials can find ways to help constituents on both sides if they listen to their political opponents and look for ways that they can make progress toward their goals, too. They may think that’s impossible — just as I used to believe. But my experience over the last 40 years has convinced me that there is a way to achieve better results both nationally and in Minnesota.
I’m not saying that win-win negotiating is easy. But we need to select leaders who would give it a chance for success. I might go so far as to say that elected officials should take a course in win-win negotiation before they take office.
Glen Taylor is the owner of the Star Tribune.