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Big Ideas

The Fairness Strategy: Negotiating for the Long-Term

Negotiations set the tone for every relationship. When embarking on a new creative partnership, consider the “fairness” strategy.

Negotiation is a part of business. Whether you are hiring a team, agreeing to terms with a client, or ironing out a deal with a vendor – negotiation sets the tone for the relationship. Of course, you want a good deal. Everyone does.
Some people take the aggressive approach: asking for more or offering less than they think is fair. The brash business figures of the 20th century were infamous for aggressive negotiation practices. The strategy here is to purposefully exceed the boundaries of fairness with the understanding that you’ll need to take a few steps back.However, by doing so, you are setting an antagonistic precedent. Screwing over the other party creates distrust and insecurity – very shaky ground for collaboration.

If you’re buying a car or a piece of real estate, aggressive may be the right strategy. But, when it comes to negotiating partnerships for bold, long-term creative pursuits, relationships and precedent matter. In fact, the relationship matters more than the extra spread you might gain from being aggressive.

When it comes to negotiating partnerships for bold, long-term creative pursuits, relationships and precedent matter.

When negotiating a deal that will result in an ongoing relationship, consider the “fairness” strategy. It’s simple: Have a discussion up front with your counterpart in the negotiation. Make the case that you want to reach a fair deal for both parties.

Then, in preparing to make your offer, put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes to determine what they should fairly expect (and deserve). Do the same thing for yourself. Ultimately, you will arrive at a number that can (hopefully!) be backed up with a transparent analysis that you’re willing to share with your counterpart. If the relationship is healthy, you will both want what’s fair.

Bottom line, the “fairness” strategy will pay off over time. Next time you enter a negotiation, think beyond the number. Remember that the end of a negotiation is the start of a relationship with the potential to create tremendous value over time.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (4)
  • Christian Sparrow

    This is great common-sense advice, Scott. Thanks

  • Simon van Duivenvoorde

    Hi Scott,

    Great article, i’m with you. When your goal is to establish a long term relationship that’s beneficial for both parties then the fairness strategy is spot on. Ask yourself the question what the value is that you can create for your client, put a price on it and then over-deliver.

    What do you think Scott; should you set your price as high as your value, or just below so it’s easier to create more perceived value and over-perform?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • negotiation strategy

    Strategies for Conflict Management is the third eight-week online course in the Executive Certificate in Negotiation

  • Hilary Gallo

    Completely agree Scott. Traditional negotiation is great for buying a boat but if you want to share a journey in the same boat other factors are much more important. Intra-group co-operation is our essential tool as humans. We are playing with this idea in the consensum project (at .org), using mediation and neurological based approaches.

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