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How To Get a Bigger Slice of Pie

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

National Pi Day

March 14 is recognized as National Pie Day, in honor of the mathematical constant π (pi) 3.14, the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. So in honor of pi day, we're going to talk about the age-old negotiation tactic of 'slicing the pie', and how to make sure you get the biggest slice possible.

Slicing the Pie

A typical negotiation involves a competitive, adversarial, win-lose, zero-sum game. If you end up with more, I end up with less.

Old (and outdated) tactics rely on manipulation, a short-term win, and it denies the ongoing relationship. It is unsustainable, inflexible, and positional, ignoring real issues and needs behind their positions.

Each person wants the biggest piece of pie. But with old-fashioned tactics, the best case scenario to get a win-win is to slice the pie in half. If we see the negotiation as a simple division of limited resources, we blind ourselves to the potential to expand our options beyond the obvious.

Busting The Myth

According to Fisher and Ury, in their classic book Getting to Yes, one of the major roadblocks stopping us from creating more options for mutual is the assumption of the "fixed pie".

We need a flexible mindset to invent creative options. Once we break out of the "fixed pie" fallacy, we can collaborate to find areas where our interests are parallel or complementary, and add more value to the final deal.

When both parties walk away with a win-win, nobody gets a small piece of pie.

How to Bake a Bigger Pie

The process of baking a bigger pie requires collaboration, innovation, creativity, and an interest-based approach. It's all about discovering each person's underlying interests, thinking creatively, and building a degree of trust and collaboration between the parties.

Not only that, but a true win-win approach builds and preserve long-term cooperative relationships, creates mutual benefit, and generates a satisfactory solution.

  1. Build Trust Studies show that while most people think of themselves as honest and cooperative, we are likely to assume the person on the other side is only looking our for themselves. But you'll never be able to achieve a win-win until you start from a foundation of trust. One way to get things moving in the right direction is to suggest early in the meeting that the focus be on creating value and building a mutually beneficial relationship. If both you and the other people can suspend suspicions and step into a spirit of cooperation, you'll be able to have a productive exchange of information and ideas.

  2. Ask Questions To create value, you need to learn about the other person's interests. Your goal is to gain an understand of what the underlying party really wants, so you can create options that appeal to their needs. Most negotiations don't start with everyone pouring their heart out about all their underlying hopes and fears, but if you ask good questions, and really listen to what the other person says, you can collect a lot of useful information. If they want to make an offer first, take a second to examine it - it can tell you a lot about the underlying interests. Money is not the key factor in most negotiations - ask probing, open-ended questions and draw out their concerns and needs.

  3. Share Information Listen more than you talk - that's how you'll learn what you need to know. But you should also not withhold information from the other party. The more open and truthful you are, the more trust you will generate, and the easier it will be to work with the other person to create value. People tend to reciprocate with one another; you can tell them something about your critical needs and most pressing interests, in return for them sharing the same information. This transparency contributes to a trusting and collaborative environment, and also gives clarity around areas of potential mutual benefit.

  4. Work Together Collaborate with the other person to brainstorm as many options as possible. Remember that part of brainstorming is not to make a judgement on the ideas, just to get as many down as possible. After the brainstorming session, you can evaluate the different ideas and decide what isn't worth considering, and what looks promising enough to keep exploring. Look for win-win, where both you and your partner have common interests or ones that dovetail without conflicting.

  5. Create Options The best way to increase the size of the pie is for each side to present options that are low cost to them but high value for your partner. The idea is that each person will gain something that appeals to their interests or meets their needs, while the other party gives up very little to provide that benefit. In this way, wise mutually beneficially tradeoffs can help us grow the pie instead of just slicing it up. Both you and your partner will achieve far more than you will if you simply compromised and "split the difference."

When you bake a bigger pie, both parties can walk away with more, and nobody ends up as the "loser." This is the idea that seeds a winning mindset, and moves us towards a more inclusive world of collaboration, creativity, holistic problem solving.

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