Skip to main content

The art of negotiating and motivating

You need these skills on the job and in your daily life

Another year. The election is over, and the aftermath will be with us for years. Look at the stats: 50-plus percent on one side and 50-minus percent on the other. Change is forecast, and everyone has a different hope for that change.

No single manager or executive or even a trade group can significantly influence what changes develop in the economy and in society as a whole. However, you as a manager or executive do have a stake in those changes, especially as they impact your own job and business. There are two key skills that may be of significant value to managers at all levels: negotiation and motivation. You will likely use both the next few years.

We often equate negotiation with unions and management. Yet people negotiate daily for a full range of things. You negotiate with your boss, co-workers, subordinates, spouse/partner, friends, salespeople, customers, and yes, even for that new car you lust for. Anytime you want to make things happen that require action by other people, you need to negotiate. You may negotiate from a position of strength and get all you seek; other times you may not get what you really sought.

Managers overlook that there are at least two varieties of negotiation: “distributive” and “integrative.” (Walton and McKersie, “A Behavioral Theory of Negotiations,” 1965) Most of us are accustomed to the distributive model of negotiating. Here we are seeking a certain result — often to win it all. If we discover a box full of coins, we might negotiate over who can have which coins. We distribute the coins according to our negotiation skills. Normally whoever gets the most valued coins will be seen as the winner of the negotiations.

The person who gets the least will be seen as the loser. The loser may be angry and become a thorn in the future. Few folks like to lose. Look at all the voices of winning and the voices of losing in the presidential election process. In such a visible scene, the loser may try to keep a low profile, but the loser’s supporters are not easy to control. The winner of most distributive negotiations likes to revel in the winning. Such reveling at the workplace level can have far-reaching negative reactions and not only from the loser.

The presidential negotiation was to win more votes, and to do so many statements were made on behalf of each candidate to change our views. Naturally candidates made arguments on their own behalf and against the other candidate. The process of making the statements is an effort to paint the opposition in a negative light. Surely you saw many examples of this in the last year. This process may be called “attitudinal adjustment.”

In such a process, one person usually tries to make his or her position more attractive to the other — change their mind to modify their position, structuring their attitude. This is an effort to cause the opponent to find agreeing more palatable. In some situations the structuring can be to illustrate the negative results if there is a failure to having one opponent win.

Attitudinal structuring has never been as visible as in the recent presidential election. Both negotiators (for your vote) spent time telling you how bad the other negotiator was and brought up old and new images to paint a bad image. One negotiator labeled every other candidate in the primary and general election with an adjective and repeated the adjective over and over. It was like advertising, which repeats the same message over and over.

The advertiser and the presidential negotiator know that repetition can influence your thinking and belief system. So “lying George” and “crooked Sam” had an impact we cannot avoid. It works; it worked. These were extreme examples; often the structuring that is used is to convince the other negotiator that the first one is honest and should be believed and be listened to.

A different model of negotiating is the integrative one (sometimes referred to as problem-solving negotiating). In one industrial example, management and union were concerned about safety issues; accidents were costly to the companies, and union members were concerned about workers being hurt, maimed or killed on the job. The company cited the increase in the cost of liability insurance as one reason it couldn’t grant a wage increase.

The two parties were blaming one another until one of the younger union leaders suggested that the negotiators agree to form a joint labor-management safety and health committee. The idea was accepted, and the two parties found that by working together they could reduce the root causes of many accidents, thus seeing insurance rates decline significantly.

This new pool of resources was then available for future pay increases. The joint committee vehicle has solved many problems in union and non-union workplaces and creates a more positive feeling toward each other. In many cases the integrative negotiation has led to more peaceful workplace relations. When the negotiators can turn a distributive issue into an integrative issue, it becomes a win-win situation.

So how can this be applied in a workplace — even yours? Cooperation or compromising are often terms used in integrative negotiation. There are several guidelines that have developed over time to assure greater total satisfaction of both parties: you and whomever you may be facing. Consider these:

Because there are usually several variables lumped as one issue or concern between two parties, discuss the variables on which you are pretty sure you can reach agreement first. This will likely create an atmosphere of agreement and greater trust. Reaching disagreement on an initial variable sets an adversarial tone to the discussions.

  • Generate together as many alternative solutions as possible. You and your spouse, boss, employee (or whomever) will get into the problem-solving spirit.
  • Try not to make the first concession. Wait to measure the concession of your other negotiator and seek to develop a psychological advantage.
  • Consider several small concessions you can make at appropriate times to show your commitment to achieving a win-win outcome.
  • Find ways to help the person making concessions overcome a sense of failure. How can the person see he or she also has won part of the encounter?
  • The conclusion should be one in which both people feel they are better off than when they started.

The age-old challenge of motivation can be viewed as a negotiation process. You cannot “motivate people” to do their best by bullying them, making all the decisions for them or trying to intimidate them. Most everyone who has not been asleep the last 75 years has heard this. Yet there are managers (as well as parents, spouses, teachers) who persist in “managing like tyrants.” Whatever the reason for such a perspective, the top-down approach is not yielding the motivated people we need. Although many theories of motivation have been discussed here in the past, consider a few key actions to elicit the motivation you want:

  • Let people know what is needed and why.
  • Keep people informed of progress observed.
  • Give people control of how work can be done (OK, without parameters).
  • Give them start-to-finish responsibility and accountability.
  • Make them feel and act like champions (getting excited when you catch them doing things well is a great start to creating champions).
  • Give them feedback. (Feedback is the breakfast of champions).
  • Give them recognition and rewards (not all employees want the same rewards).
  • Help individuals learn and grow into better employees.
  • Be approachable.

You can examine each and see that negotiations are at the heart of the motivation variable. Your job now is to adapt these ideas to fit your work setting and move toward 2018 with improved management and employee relationships. Oh yes, Happy New Year!

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail:

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.



Limestone Secures Financing for Expansion

The company said the $6 million in credit will be used to improve its Tennessee manufacturing facility and buy new equipment.


Mastry Marine Names Repower Center

St. Augustine, Fla.-based McKenzie Marine is the engine distributor’s latest designated Suzuki Repower Center.


Vanderbilt Ships First Pontoon

The company said the 700T Series was the first model shipped from its new Fort Wayne, Ind., factory and was delivered to The Marina in Angola, Ind.


NMMA Celebrates CHIPS Act

The legislation aims to return semiconductor manufacturing to the U.S. and allows businesses to deduct R&D costs in the same year they are incurred.


Cox Marine Hires Sales and Support Staff

The diesel outboard builder this week brought aboard a new regional sales director, regional sales manager and an aftersales manager.


Boating Interests Lose Wind Farm Battle

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a proposed wind farm off the Cleveland, Oh., waterfront meets planning requirements.


July Inflation Data Lags June

Consumer Price Index results may indicate that inflation has peaked, and Producer Price Index data was below market expectations.


Yamaha Posts Higher Sales, Profit

The company’s first half 2022 net sales increased to $1.93 billion, and segment income rose to $330 million.