NZALPA Legal Officer Mark Dignan is looking forward to putting his learnings from the Harvard Program on Negotiation into action during future negotiations with Jetconnect, Mount Cook and Air Nelson.
“The program of study focused on advanced negotiation techniques that will provide ongoing advantages to the union for interest-based bargaining,” Dignan said. He returned from Harvard Law School in Boston, United States, in June.
“Interest-based bargaining is applicable in many scenarios, including Collective Employment Agreements and other workplace matters.”
Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation is a “think tank” that has provided both advice and practical facilitation to representatives from government and private sector by offering long-term education and advanced courses.
The Program’s founders, professors William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, have written what are widely regarded as the seminal text books on modern negotiation techniques, including the influential interest-based negotiation text book: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
The curriculum included lectures, workshops and also practical negotiation sessions each day, which were videoed and analysed as a group to allow discussions about what worked, what didn’t, and what might be learned.
"The Program was intense, challenging and rigorous, and I loved it," Dignan said.
Professor Bruce Patton led the Program and is renowned for (among other notable highlights) negotiating the release of the US Diplomats from Tehran, and working with Professor Fisher to facilitate the negotiation between the African National Congress and the white South African government to create a new constitution after the end of apartheid.
“Attendees were not all lawyers, and my working group included policy analysts from Washington D.C, military personnel, Wall Street brokers and even a United Nations crisis worker,” Dignan said.
“We were all looking to learn from the best, and improve our ability to achieve better outcomes, using integrative or interest-based negotiation.”
Dignan’s greatest learning was that “traditional” negotiations often produce compromise, which does not efficiently meet the true interests of the disputants or make the best use of available resources.
He recalled a story told on the course by Professor Patton, which illustrates the limitations of some negotiation techniques and the value of interest-based negotiations.
“Two chefs arrive at the fridge to fetch an orange and find only one. They argue over who should have the orange and finally agree to cut it in half, and take an equal share. But after cutting it, one chef asks the other: ‘Why do you want the orange, what will you do with it?’ The second chef replies: ‘I am making a sauce, and I will juice the orange and throw away the skin. What do you want it for?’
The first chef says: ‘I have baked a cake, and I will peal the skin and use it as a garnish. I do not need the juice at all and would have thrown it away’. After sharing their interests in the orange, both realised that they could each have left ‘the table’ with more than half an orange if they had understood each other’s needs first.
“Compromise simply splits the difference between two positions, whereas creative, integrative solutions, on the other hand, can potentially give everyone more of what they are negotiating for,” Dignan said.
“To achieve this, it is necessary to consider the interests behind the positions parties take. It is in this space that options and solutions can be worked.
“Negotiators can come up with creative new ideas for meeting interests and needs that would not otherwise be possible. The goal is a win-win outcome, giving each side as much of their interests as possible, and enough, at a minimum that they see the outcome as a win, rather than a loss.”
Dignan will share his learnings with the NZALPA team. He joins General Manager Dawn Handforth and Legal Officer Adam Nicholson as the “bench strength” of NZALPA staff who have attended the Program of Negotiation at Harvard.
“Interest-based bargaining, which is also called principled negotiation, focuses on mutual gain and value creation,” Handforth said.
“It’s about expanding the pie to benefit all parties rather than fighting over who gets what slice of a fixed pie, which frequently leaves value on the table. Issues are decided on their merits, rather than via a haggling process.
"Because this method separates the people from the problem it makes it possible to have an amicable agreement.”