The Harvard PONS blog posted an interesting tale about a billionaire who bought a 53-acre parcel for $37.5 million encompassing Martin’s Beach in 2008. In  “When our “Principles “Crash up Against our Negotiation Goals,” by PON staff (May 11, 2023),  the author notes that as the land was subject to California’s 1976 Coastal Act,  the buyer-Vinod Kosla- was warned both before and after the purchase that he would have to allow access to Martin’s  Beach including maintaining the road to the beach, maintaining the parking lot and keeping the gate open to the beach front. (Id.)

For the first two years, Mr. Kosla complied with his obligations.  But then in 2010, he locked the gate and ignored a judge’s order to open it for public access. Although threatened with fines of more than $11,000 a day, he refused to comply with the court’s order, and he even filed multiple suits against county and state officials alleging extortion and infringement of his rights (even though he had never stepped foot on the property and so his “privacy” was not an issue!) (Id.)

Why was Mr. Kosla being so difficult? The blog cites two “common negotiating traps.” (Id.) The first is “an irrational commitment to a personal definition of “principle.” (Id.)  While it is good to have core beliefs and values, we also need to “weigh and prioritize the various principles at play, keeping our ultimate negotiation goals in mind.” (Id.) While, admittedly, some principles are truly non-negotiable such as your family’s safety, (Id.), we must be honest with ourselves and ask which principles “truly” non-negotiable and which ones are only “pseudosacred” ones. (Id.) Thus, while protecting private property rights is a laudable principle, is it truly non-negotiable especially where here, one has never stepped foot on the property?

The second negotiation trap is often referred to as a “sunk cost” bias. That is, we invest more and more time, money and other resources into a failing strategy. We pour good money after bad, so to speak, rather than recognize that it is a losing proposition and walk away. (Id.)

So- how to avoid these traps? The blog suggests three ways. First, we should aim to understand what is really going on.  Actively listen to the other side of the story and ask a lot of follow up questions so that you gain a full appreciation of the other’s viewpoint. Second, ignore and/or reframe the threats and ultimatums. Concentrate on the issues instead. And third, but just as important, recognize your own pseudosacred principles and let them go.  The blog notes that if you soften your own stance, the other party may well reciprocate by softening her stance.

So, while principles are important, it is also crucial to be flexible.

…. Just something to think about!




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