(originally published in 2008, this is an updated version...)
My lovely and talented wife sent me this word of the day, found on a blog about Agile software development teams.
Equipoise is the equilibrium formed by offsetting conflicting forces.
What a great word for negotiators!
Now, my style of negotiations is very different from most. During my formative years in the profession, I was always negotiating on behalf of one team, with another team. Many corporate negotiators have a similar challenge - so, where most negotiation classes assume:
MOTIVATION -> YOU || OTHER <- MOTIVATION
Reality is more like:
MOTIVATION -> Stakeholder \
MOTIVATION -> Stakeholder -> Negotiation Team -> YOU || OTHER <- Similarly communal structure
MOTIVATION -> Stakeholder -> Controls Auditors /
MOTIVATION -> Stakeholder /
When I was a government contracting officer, at least I had the advantage of controlling the money. Groups that wanted to buy something gave me their money (allocating it to the buy in the finance system), I then committed the funds by completing the negotiations and signing the contract.
...but I digress.
My view of negotiators for both buyers and sellers is that we are standing on a 10 foot tall 4"x4" pole, surrounded by pitchfork and torch-wielding stakeholders. Our job is to quiet down our mob, so we can shout across at the other pole-standing negotiator from the other side. Equipoise is a perfect word for succeeding in that environment!
Before you can start shouting across the divide, you must achieve equilibrium between the competing forces inside your own company: sales, manufacturing, finance, legal, environmental, diversity, marketing, some guy on the board a vendor knows, subcontractors, etc. Let's call this internal-equipoise (EPi).
Now you are ready to take this shaky set of negotiation points and work with your counterpart to match it up with their similarly shaky internal-equipoise. Success here means achieving external-equipoise (EPe).
Finally, you need to take the resulting deal and pass through its requirements to your vendors, sub-contractors, etc - I'd call this relational-equipoise (EPr), because everything built to date can be shattered by a key sub refusing to agree.
I've been doing yoga (well, my wife's Wii Fit does Yoga, I try not to fall off the board) - and so many of the positions involve achieving a state of relational balance. Do this with one leg, and that with your arm, now achieve balance in that position, with the conflicting forces trying to throw you off balance.
- Stephen Sopko