• jen calderon

Why Principle One is important: Your counterpart is not your enemy



In our up and coming negotiation skills course, we talk about the 7 principles of Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation. The first principle is: Your Counterpart is Not Your Enemy. There is a natural tendency for us to want to win and see our counterpart as our adversary in a negotiation. If your counterpart enters into a negotiation with you sensing that you may be the enemy on a fundamental level, they will find it difficult to agree with anything you have to say - even if you are both saying the same thing. We have the tendency to conflate the message and the messenger so if we don´t trust or like the messenger we attribute the same level of feelings towards the message. Sadly the opposite has also been known to be true, in a time-honoured emotional response to bad news, we can sometimes generate immense feelings of dislike to the bearer of bad news. This is the origin of the phrase “Don't shoot the messenger”.


Take the case of two teachers negotiating passionately for the next year's school budget for their respective departments. One teacher tells the other that a lot of students are going to suffer this year if they don't come to an agreement. The other immediately sees this as a passive-aggressive veiled threat and goes on the attack. With a healthy dislike for each other and emotions riding high, it is almost impossible for the two to see that they both want the same thing, a great learning experience for the students.


People don't like to be wrong or to back down, especially from a perceived enemy, it looks too similar to a surrender and weakness. Skilled negotiators address the deeper unstated emotional concerns in a conversation and look for the similarities of interests of both parties whilst highlighting the joint challenges that the situation may present. They will also paint a picture in which the two parties have shared responsibility for what may happen if they cannot agree. (Mutually Assured Destruction M.A.D).


This approach allows the counterparts to view each other as different players in the same team and gives them access to resources otherwise out of reach. By keeping Principle One in mind you will enter into a negotiation looking for similarities and common areas where both parties can focus their energies.

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