- Negotiations and Change: From the Workplace to Society
Some forty years after the original publication of A Behavioral Theory of Negotiations by Walton and McKersie, Thomas Kochan and David Lipsky examine the current state of research, teaching, and theory of negotiations. The edited volume, Negotiations and Change: From the Workplace to Society, includes a diverse collection of chapters that explore the evolution and application of negotiations theory both in the workplace and broader civil society. While several authors provide new and interesting advances to the field, many chapters drift away from the strengths of Walton and McKersie's original work, replacing analysis of complex processes in negotiations with normative prescriptions for integrative bargaining. Indeed, in the concluding chapter, the authors for whom this volume is dedicated provide a powerful reminder to those who would prefer to see all labor-management negotiations pushed into the integrative box.
Too often in the lexicon of those who teach negotiations, the ideal outcome is touted as "win-win." Such an image of the process is not faithful to the reality of most situations. Major conflicts of interests do exist, deadlocks do develop, and the parties are often prone to utilize coercive forms of power. . . . The point is that a more nuanced view of the process is necessary, and that the mixed-motive nature of the engagement holds the potential for breakdowns as well as breakthroughs.(306)
Much has changed in the practice of bargaining, and in the way we teach, research and think about negotiations. An assessment of where the field has been, our current understanding of the negotiations process, and possible future directions is long overdue. Where the book avoids the simplistic traps that claim distributive bargaining is bad and integrative bargaining is good, the authors provide interesting insights and challenging new directions for the study of negotiations. However, the recurring normative tone that extols unions to abandon their bad old conflict-ridden ways, and encourages managers to weather the turbulence into the integrative Promised Land, detracts from an otherwise fine collection.
The book is divided into five sections. In the first part, Kochan and Lipsky begin by summarizing the conceptual foundations of Walton and McKersie's book, and outlining the four sub-processes of negotiations presented in A Behavioral Theory of Negotiations. The second section explores [End Page 90] the process of workplace change and tacit negotiations. Janice Klein has a particularly interesting chapter on the changing role of front line supervisors. Part three takes a step back to look at the broader trends of transformations in labor-management relations. Beaumont and Hunter provide a refreshing dose of reality in their examination of labor-management partnerships in Britain, in the chapter, "Can Partnership Square the Circle?" Section four follows the practice and theory of negotiations outside of the traditional labor-management context, including environmental and public policy arenas. In the final section, Walton and McKersie provide their own assessment of where the study and practice of negotiations has come and where it may be headed.
Largely missing from the volume, but again raised by Walton and McKersie in the final chapter, is the critical role that power plays in the process of negotiations. The interactions between labor and management, between environmentalists, industry and politicians, or other groups in society all involve disparities in power and differences of interest. These differences, the potential for conflict, and the process of resolution are what make the study of negotiations so rich and challenging.
Power is critical, whether we are analyzing the negotiations process at the broader level of transformations in labor-management relations, or the more micro level of workplace change and team-based production methods. This is equally true in other segments of society. Polluting industries have little reason to explore integrative solutions with environmentalists unless there is the potential to cause companies economic harm through successful legal or regulatory action. Power is never absent from the process of negotiations. We should not try to relegate the role of power to the undesirable...