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What You'll Learn In Today's Episode

  • The Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) is a popular concept in modern Negotiating circles. You’ll hear it in classrooms and see it in many books.
  • While it’s not entirely wrong, ZOPA isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Aram has seen situations, firsthand, in which it facilitated mistakes.
  • Generally speaking, a Circle of Trust (or Principled Negotiation) approach is preferable. This emphasizes exploring options without pushing commitments.
  • The Circle of Trust employs standards of legitimacy and interests in search of ways to both create and distribute value. This can create a ZOPA where there wasn’t one.

Executive Summary:

Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx Podcast! Your team is discussing the pros and cons of the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA). The concept is popular, for better or worse, today.

However, what happens when your ZOPA and the other party’s don’t immediately intersect?

The Twilight Zone of Possible Agreement

Let’s clarify the acronym a little further: ZOPA refers to a realm of potential agreement when 2 or more parties attempt negotiating. This is the metaphorical common ground where, through concessions, everyone can get closest to their goals.

Logjams happen. In fact, every time both sides view things from a polar-opposite perspective, they’re likely.

As a result, many books and Negotiation instructors tout ZOPA for corporate conference tables. In a pinch, it’s a view that sometimes may apply. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, though.

For example, Aram has seen situations, firsthand, in which it simply wasn’t accurate: Both parties had interests clearly lining up. Next, for one reason or another, negotiations quickly fell through.

On one occasion, a higher authority abruptly ordered discussions closed. Things had seemed to be going decently… until the plug was pulled.

Despite the fact that both sides were engaged, that authority saw no (obvious) ZOPA. Consequently, despite their potential, the talks were ended.

By ZOPA’s terms, the hasty individual probably didn’t do anything wrong. Regardless, their decision was shortsighted, if not counterproductive.

Even allowing for unusual circumstances, in this case, the paradigm is flawed. In other words, it disregards the long-term impact of abrupt shutdowns. This is how ZOPA can encourage bad decisions.

Avoid Burning Bridges

There’s an old saying that to make mistakes is human, while “To forgive is divine:” People tend to remember doors suddenly slamming in their face.

Some may give you another chance, but in other cases, the relationship gets permanently damaged. Whether that other party is a corporation, a city government, or a once-close friend, the ROI isn’t there.

In the case of Aram’s counterpart who’d been shut out, the bridge was burned. Given a little more time, a favorable agreement might have been possible—until talks were cut short.

Because a higher-up relied on ZOPA as a measuring stick, the channel was closed permanently. In fairness, everyone has their Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

So, we’re not condemning the person who made the call. In all honesty, there are accurate elements of ZOPA, too. It’s just not 100% reliable.

Instead, try the Circle of Value approach. Sometimes referred to as Principled Negotiation, it emphasizes exploring options without pushing commitments.

This can help create a ZOPA where there wasn’t one. Standards of legitimacy and interests are also used in search of ways to both create and distribute value. Consequently, neither side becomes a voice of authority.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t waste time on terms that won’t make you more effective. Just because something’s popular doesn’t make it ideal. Instead, know your interests clearly.Be clear about your needs, fears, and motivations, too
  • Appeal to the power of creativity at the table. Come up with multiple options for you both. Meanwhile,acknowledge that you and your counterpart have alternatives.
  • Know your BATNA. Be aware of how you can satisfy your interests elsewhere. As you evaluate your options, never agree to anything worse than your BATNA, either.

Your NEGOTIATEx team dives further into how ZOPA’s effect on negotiations in this edition of the NEGOTIATEx Podcast! Questions and episode suggestions to team@negotiatex.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop by negotiatex.com for more information and our negotiation prep tool, either.

Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!

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