I once had a relationship in which we fought about the way we should fight. We called this fight the "MetaArgument."
Now, the Negotiator's Field Book -- the Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator tells me that what I was having was a "shadow negotiation" (see Deborah M. Kolb's chapter Strategic Moves and Turns here) in which
people . . . negotiate how they are going to negotiate [and where] they work out the terms of their relationship and the expectations they have of each other. Even though the subject seldom comes up directly, they decide between themselves whose interests and needs will hold sway, whose opinions will matter, and how cooperatively they are going to work together.
(photo by Anairam Zeravla from MorgueFile)
You'll have to read the entire article to derive the full benefit (I ordered this book today), but here's an excerpt to tantalize you:
In an interesting example from the world stage, in trade negotiations between U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and her Chinese counterpart over intellectual property, Barshefsky used interruption and diverting turns participatively in response to a threat.
Menacingly, he (Chinese negotiator) leaned forward across the table toward Barshefsky and said flatly, “It’s take it or leave it.” Barshefsky,t aken aback by the harsh tone, surprised her counterpart by sitting quietly. She waited 30-40 seconds—an eternity given the intensity of the negotiation— and came back with a measured reply: “If the choice is take or leave it, of course I’ll leave it. But I can’t imagine that’s what you meant. I think what you mean is that you’d like me to think over your last offer and that we can continue tomorrow.”
Barshefsky’s participative turn of the threat disrupted it and resulted in a major compromise the next morning. The interruption (her silence) was important; it enabled her to reassert control. Further, her diverting turn signaled her intention to revise the Chinese negotiator’s offer, but did it in a way that gave him space to back down. In this case, her turning a threat signaled that this tactic would not work and pushed the mover to reconsider.
Both equity and participative turns have the potential to be critical in shifting a negotiation. Equity turns can involve each party testing the other’s mettle. Such posturing can move the negotiations along. Of course, it is also possible that this kind of posturing can result in backlash and impasse. Participative turns seem to be more likely to lead to positive transitions and even the possibility that some forms of transformation might occur.
For the remainder of this chapter, click here. Ms. Kolb's article alone is worth the price of the book.