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Love, Eros, and Negotiation

September 18, 2013

Even linking the notions of love with negotiation rubs some people the wrong way. Love, after all, should be pure and not subject to vicissitudes of business. And, negotiation, being business, many believe should never be personal. In most relationships, however, personal and business, love and negotiation are inseparable and he denial of that reality frequently and unnecessarily contribute to the end of many relationships.

Love and negotiation are inextricably connected. So much so that it is foolhardy to try to pretend that they can be separated, and naive not to study their interplay. There are business aspects to love relationships that must be negotiated and negotiation can contribute to the romance. Visually, consider the image of two fields—-love and negotiation—-drawn as circles that are not congruent but overlap to form a center. The left circle is love, the right circle is negotiation, and the overlap area is negotiated love. Each of the three fields can be operationally defined.

Love in its purest form, Eros if you will, is defined by the acts that one is willing to do expecting nothing in return. The lover is willing to risk that the love freely given will be unrequited or reciprocated. This is the stuff of the poets, the blues and country music. This kind of selflessness is the stuff of heroes, in myth, legend, and literature. Their willingness to commit themselves completely to a person or a belief enhances and advances us all. While such people make us proud to be human, such unadulterated devotion leaves them vulnerable and they are often perceived by many to be weak or flawed people. The pursuit of a dream—be it perfect love, justice, an invention, or a business—is against the odds and a common form of predictable human irrationality. At the same time, the source of their success is often found in such irrational behavior: they are “too stupid to know they can fail.” Many negotiators and mediators involved in trying to resolve protracted and complex matters are similarly successful because of their passion, tenacity, and committed to finding a workable resolution despite the odds against.

The conventional wisdom posits that if love partakes in the sacred, then negotiation must be aligned with the profane. In negotiation, unlike selfless love, one does not give something of value without receiving something of value in return. A lover offers the full measure of him or herself without reservation, by contrast, a good negotiator plays his or her cards close to their vest and always has a back up plan or escape route in mind. Love is supposed to be unconditional while negotiation is calculated and strategic. There is an ongoing assessment of the other person(s) interests, needs, and fears, and seeking to leverage them to ones’ advantage while trying to minimize risks. Both Love and negotiation require in equal parts a passionate commitment and dispassionate calculation. In the middle range there are two sub parts. The first is about negotiation as a display of a kind of love—an investment in a belief about how conflict might be managed. The other is about recognizing that even in the most loving relationship there must be negotiation. The best negotiators know how to love and the best lovers know how to negotiate, and most importantly of all, when to do which.

For the negotiator, ironically, being able to love and be passionate, makes them all the more effective. It is the primal energy behind their authenticity and the desire to make a deal that will work. The negotiator may not love the person with whom they are negotiating but they are passionate about the process and deeply committed to reaching an understanding. Terry Waite did not need to love the Algerian leader Col. Omar Khadaffi, when he negotiated for the release of the Anglican Priests he had taken hostage, but he did have to convey to Khadaffi his passionate commitment to a workable outcome. (Benjamin, R.D., “Terry Waite: A Study in Authenticity,” 2002)

For the lover, when love becomes institutionalized in the form of a long-term commitment or or marriage, negotiation is essential to maintain and nurture the relationship. When the chemistry wanes, or events, random or expected, intrude to test the resolve of the parties, negotiation, is the duct tape, or the stitching that holds the fabric of relationship together when ideal of love has been ripped by reality. It is the means by which some understanding can be reached between people in the meantime…. to allow each of them time to repair and for the love to re-emerge, and for the relationship to morph into a different form.

Unfortunately, because negotiation is thought by many to be so foreign to love, if not a profanity that has no place in romance, it is too seldom used—at least not consciously and directly. Sex, money, time and energy are only the most obvious matters to be that must be negotiated. In the end, everyone negotiates; the only question is how thoughtfully and effectively. Not only do the many romantic myths of perfect love and intimacy perpetuated in literature and film, intrude and close off the thought of using negotiation, but most people are simply unstudied in the process and skills. Not unlike other difficulties that must be managed in the business of life, they begin with ultimatums and demands generated by the hurt of a real or perceived betrayal and end with a retreat or defection from the relationship. Often, the prospect of negotiation is nipped in the bud by the assumption that if “I have to ask, it isn’t worth it— it’s too much work.”

Counseling can sometimes help but it is no substitute for negotiation. Communication is obviously an essential element but not sufficient. Negotiation is what happens after the people communicate; after each person has figured out what they feel they need to survive and thrive in the relationship to fulfill some measure of their focusing illusion of happiness, skillfully present thoughts to the other person, and consider what they are willing to offer in return to make the relationship work.

Negotiation can be romantic. Accepting and recognizing the interplay of love and negotiation gives a relationship a more realistic grounding and makes it all the more likely to flourish. The love, trust, support and devotion that are the wonders of a human relationship are no longer reliant on merely the “wing and a prayer” of a vow or a promise. In fact, paradoxically, the best way to gauge the potential strength and durability of a relationship may well be for one to assess early-on how willing or able the other person would be to negotiate the hard stuff that will inevitably test them—including a divorce, were that to occur. (Benjamin, R.D., “Romantic Negotiations: The Prenuptial Agreement,” Jan 2013) Caring deeply and being supportive of the other person, along with a well-developed sense of humor, are all important, but when it is hard to care and attempts at humor fall flat, then negotiation is essential.


Robert Benjamin

Robert Benjamin, M.S.W., J.D., has been a practicing mediator since 1979, working in most dispute contexts including: business/civil, family/divorce, employment, and health care. A lawyer and social worker by training, he practiced law for over 25 years and now teaches and presents professional negotiation, mediation, and conflict management seminars and… MORE >

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