What should your demand be?

“You establish realistic demands so that targets take you seriously, and you leave room for negotiations.” (Tools for Radical Democracy, Minieri and Getsos)

Let’s start with two examples of bad demands:

  1. We demand the immediate dissolution of the capitalist/white-supremacist/patriarchal/militarist state
  2. We demand a .0001% increase in wages to be made up for by workers skipping lunch.

I often see groups argue over what they should ask for in a demand. The debate often goes between “realists” and “idealists.” And, as is often the case, both have a bit of the truth.

The idealists see the grand goal, and they are impatient to get things over with and fix all that is broken in the system.

The realists want to see some progress, and they don’t want to have what progress they can achieve undermined by asking for too much.

How can find the right spot between demanding too much and too little?

Michael Donaldson’s book Fearless Negotiating (commented on here) gives a simple 3-step method to help you figure out that point. You need to figure out 3 things:

  1. What your best case scenario is (your “wish”)
  2. What you think you can get (your “want”)
  3. what’s so little that you won’t accept it (your “walk”).

It’s easier to ask for too much or too little. To ask for just the right amount takes more work, but I think it’s worth it.

The Power of Preparation: The Wish-Want-Walk Negotiating Method

Despite a silly cover, Michael Donaldson’s book Fearless Negotiating: The Wish-Want-Walk Method to Reaching Agreements that Work is a very good read, even if you don’t do much negotiating.

The premise of the book is simple: before you walk into to any negotiation you should prepare yourself by knowing you Wish, your Want, and and your Walk away point.

Wish: You wish is where, if everything goes perfectly, you would like the negotiation to end up. Think big. Get everyone on board. Start by creating a grand plan and then whittling it down to a manageable number of wishes. Now you know where you hope things will go.

Want: Your want is where you think the negotiation will end up. You’ve researched the field, you know the people you’re negotiating with, and this is where you expect things to end up.

Walk: You walk point is where you say, “I can’t make this agreement, this is giving up too much,” and you are ready to walk away. You won’t make an agreement that is worse than your walk away point. This is similar to what Getting to Yes calls you Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

That’s it! It is a beautifully simple system.

Of course, simple is not the same as easy. It takes work to do the soul-searching to come up with your wish. It takes work to do the research to have a well-informed want. And it takes work to develop the discipline to write down your walk and be ready to hold to it.

But when you do that work, it smooths the path for a productive negotiation.

Since you know your wish, you an ready to start the negotiation with your big vision and to negotiate from there.

Since you know your walk, you are unlikely to feel “buyers remorse” or worry you made a bad deal.

Since you know where you stand, you’re better positioned to listen to the others in the negotiaiton.

Since you’ve gotten buy-in on your wish-want-walk, you avoid criticism from making a “bad deal.” People have already agreed what’s a good deal and what’s an unacceptable deal.

And this system applies to more than just classical negotiation situations. As I look to the future of ICPJ, I can use Wish-Want-Walk to figure out where I would like the organization to go, where I think it will go, and what future directions would tell me it’s time to move on.