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Published December 22, 2012

From the victim of a pirate gank telling the pirates he honestly can’t afford the 50mil ransom to save his pod to the Coalition leaders negotiating with a new member (Montolio seems to have this process streamlined now), negotiation is everywhere in EVE: Online. For such an important skill, many people don’t really put any thought into how they negotiate. The reason for this is that it is a natural skill; negotiation isn’t just present everywhere in EVE, it’s present in your real life too. Yet, like so many things, the "common sense" is actually an awful technique. So how can you be a better negotiator? I'll show you in terms of EVE, but the skills and techniques can be applied anywhere.

THE PUSH-ME PULL-YOU

Everything is negotiable. Whether or not the negotiation is easy is another thing.” - Carrie Fisher

Suppose you walk into a shop and you spot something on sale for £100, but upon close examination reveals a dent. The dent is hardly noticeable at all but for the light hitting it just so, yet you decide you can use it as leverage to bargain.

“I’ll give you £75 for this as you can see the dent right there” you say to the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper replies “No way, I have a family to feed. I’ll sell it for £95”

You, in turn, suggest “I’m not paying more then £80 I’m afraid”

...and so forth.

What you are doing is negotiating by stating a position to your opposite number. By definition in order for a consensus to be reached one of you must move from your position in order to agree a deal. Just like you did in this example, people frequently seek an excuse start at as low a price as possible, blatantly so, in order to “give room” to negotiate. These are the sorts of things that "common sense" says is good negotiating technique.

They're not.

The only way they will reach an agreement with you is because you make them do so (or alternatively they make you). This will lead to deteriorating the relationship between those negotiating. On top of that, the method is time consuming. In theory you and the shopkeeper in the example could continue to change your position by 1p at a time, meaning the difference between £80 and £95 in the example that was remaining would take a ridiculous 1500 offers and counter offers to conclude in the middle!

So what is your alternative?

WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. - Thomas Jefferson

You may be asking yourself “If you can’t take positions to negotiate, what can you do?”

First, you need to change your mindset about negotiating. To reiterate, traditional positional bargaining implies there is a winner and a loser, one person that offers and one person who reluctantly accepts (or tricks the other person into thinking they have to reluctantly accept, therefore “winning”).

Roger Fisher wrote a book called “Getting to YES!”, published in 1981, which espoused a technique known as “principled negotiation”. Using his techniques, you move the conversation with your opposite number away from the idea of “your position” vs “their position” and towards determining the needs of both sides and which of those needs are a must, and which are flexible.

The objectives of positional bargaining devised by Fisher are simple:

  • "Separate the people from the problem." (Don’t make things personal)
  • "Focus on interests, not positions." (What interests are a must and what interests are flexible?)
  • "Invent options for mutual gain." (Think outside the box for unconventional solutions)
  • "Insist on using objective criteria." (Benchmark, use third party opinions)
  • "Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)" (We'll look at this in depth later)

Had you followed those concepts in the negotiation with the shopkeeper, the discussion might have gone more like this:

“I see there is a dent in this piece. How much do you usually discount goods if they are in this condition?” you say.

“I'm not making a whole lot on the piece anyway, so I could discount it by £5” says the shopkeeper.

“OK. Well, it's very nice, but I can get a similar one down the road for £80 that isn’t damaged. Is there something stopping you from discounting more?”

“The most I could discount and still make a profit is about £10”

“I was thinking of buying this other item too, what if you give me a £10 discount off that to make £20 in total?”

Here you have not made the issue personal. You have focused on interests, not positions (your interest is saving money, his is making a profit). You have invented options for mutual gain (you get a discount off two items, he gets to sell two) and you have used objective criteria - namely, comparisons to another store. By doing these things you’ll find negotiations can result in better outcomes for both parties while maintaining a much better relationship.

Easy right?

I'M TAKING MY BALL AND GOING HOME

Negotiation assumes parties are more anxious to agree than to disagree. - Dean Acheson

Wrong. You forgot about their Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). To figure this out you need to ask yourself “What will they get if they walk away right now?”

In our shopkeeper’s case he gains no immediate benefit from walking away from negotiations. Sure, he loses the sale, but he’s pretty sure he'll get his asking price from someone else sooner or later. Your offer needs to compete with that, by convincing him the loss of profit is worth the faster sale. Fisher explains that if your opposite number’s BATNA is better than whatever you are offering them, they will never accept no matter what tricks or techniques you use.

APPLYING IT ALL TO EVE

The obvious example I’m going to pick is coalitions and alliances negotiating deals with their friends and, perhaps more importantly, their enemies. Finding a mutually beneficial deal between enemies is often easier than it would appear. For example, many a large coalition get bored and restless without things to shoot. You, the head of a small alliance bordering that coalition, also would like fights, but at the same time don't want to be invaded and destroyed just because they're bored. So, identify the mutual needs. You both want fights, and neither wants to shoot the others structures - you because the coalition has just finished demonstrating that they're a little touchy about that sort of thing, and them because, well, demonstrating their touchiness meant a lot of structure shooting, and they're sick of it. The solution? Negotiate a Non-Invasion Pact. Both sides are free to attack the other at will, but the fights do not touch sov structures or other infrastructure.

To recall the scenario at the start of the article, I mentioned negotiating ransom prices with pirates. Looking at such a negotiation through Fisher's perspective, it becomes apparent why negotiating on principles is pointless with such people. Their BATNA is much, much stronger than in the coalition example. The coalition's BATNA is to simply annihilate your smaller alliance, but that would entail more structure grinding, and they'd really rather just have good fights and collect their moon goo in peace. Therefore a solution in whereby you cease to be a problem that doesn’t involve them wiping you out through a fairly pointless sov war is certainly more beneficial. In the case of the pirates, though, they're perfectly fine with destroying your ship and pod, especially if you seem like the sort who's tears might be savored, and if you can't cough up the demanded ransom it does them no favors to accept what you claim is all you can pay. And, of course, there's always their ultimate BATNA: take your money and kill you anyway. So, your offer needs to not only be better then them shooting you, but also better than them taking whatever you offer them and then shooting you.

In my defense, I never said it was always easy.

So, next time you’re in a negotiation (whether you want to be or not) remember not to resort to positional bargaining. Of course, there are times when it's better to not negotiate at all. You are welcome to try these techniques next time your significant other tells you to clean the kitchen feel free, but I won't be held responsible for any break ups.

(For anyone looking to do further reading on the subject I recommend “Getting to YES!” by Robert Fisher.)

Inquisitor_Kitchner
Hailed as both a "posting god" and a terrible poster I am a member of Executive Outcomes giving me access to two coalitions to bombard with good/bad posts. Out of game I have a Politics & International Relations degree and work in Risk Management.

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