What the British Airways dispute teaches us about negotiation

I know this is last week’s news, but I’ve been reflecting on the resolution of the BA dispute and what it teaches us about negotiation. Here is a summary of the dispute from  BBC News.

This is a dispute that had been going on for the last couple of years. At times it got very antagonistic. It is also a classic example of what happens when you negotiate from positions. Effectively, both sides drew lines in the sand that they were not prepared to cross (“this is our position”). Unfortunately there was a significant gap between the two parties, so no progress could be made. Worse than this, having stated their positions, it became increasingly difficult to move from that position without losing face. So it became a battle of egos as much as principles. How do we get out of such a predicament?

The eventual successful resolution of the dispute hinged on a copule of key decisons. Firstly, the principle public figues in the dispute were removed from the discussions. This from the BBC News report:

Former British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh, who became the focus of the anger of many union members during the dispute, moved into a new position earlier this year. He is now head of the company formed by the merger of BA and the Spanish carrier Iberia, International Airlines Group, and was succeeded by Mr Williams. At Unite, Mr McCluskey succeeded former joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson. Len McCluskey praised Mr Williams for being “strong, brave and courageous” in reaching the agreement.”

Once the principle antagonists (and their egos) were replaced, there was an opportunity to start again. The above quote relfects 2 other changes that followed. Firstly, the negotiation style changed from Competitive (I win, You lose) to Collaborative (I win, You win). Secondly, this facilitated a change in strategy – negotiate from interests rather than from positions. This approach is about understanding the issue from the other person’s perspective (called second position in NLP) as well as your own. The result? Compromise and an outcome that both sides can live with. Research has shown that the collaborative approach is more likely to produce sustainable results and keeps a positive relationship between the 2 parties intact.

So, when you are planning your next negotiation try usind a combination of a collaborative approach and negotiate on interests rather than positions.

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