Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue: 

This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter. 

That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland. 

In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.

I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive. 


LEARNINGS Number 13: April 1987


LEARNING: There is more than one way to slice a cake.

Several of the recent books on negotiation contain the story about two children dividing a cake. The obvious solution, according to these books, is for one child to slice the cake and for the other to choose which slice to take. It seems to me that there are other possibilities. 

Recently, as I began a course in Positive Negotiation by Telephone for a client in Norway, once of the participants asked how we could talk about positivenegotiation. As he put it, there is only a limited amount of cake. So someone is going to get the smaller slice and lose – which would be negative negotiation. 

I began a rather lengthy explanation of how there is often more cake and we don’t have to limit ourselves to what is on the table. Then Sveinung Medaas, one of the other participants, said, “So you just have to bake a new cake!” 

Exactly. The whole point of positive negotiation is to look for ways in which both of us can win and maybe even get more than we expected. To continue with the cake example (if nothing else, this newsletter should give you a good appetite), we may start to negotiate with a smaller cake. But the chances are that even an equal division will leave us equally unhappy. 

One option is to bake a new and larger cake so that we have more to divide up. 

Another option is to bake a new and different cake by adding some other ingredients. 

Then when I make my choice of which slice, I can choose a slice with more of my favourite ingredients and you can choose a slice with more of your favourite ingredients. 

In fact, my brother Giles used to bake pies that he called bi-pies and tri-pies because he divided and pie shell with ridges of pastry and then put in two or three different fillings. He knew his two brothers well enough to know that I would go for the blueberry section so that he and Lew could split the apple and cherry sections. 

Knowing what the other party likes is one of the key elements of positivenegotiation. Certainly the first step is to decide what I want, but the next step is to spend at least as much time considering (and, if necessary, asking) what youwant. 

And then we both need to think about how we can give the other what the other wants. We can do that by baking a new and larger cake or by baking a new cake with different ingredients. 

The real beauty of bringing different ingredients onto the table to bake the new cake is that different ingredients appeal to different people. You like apples; I like blueberries; she likes cherries; he likes pears. 

One of the keys to a positive negotiation is to use elegant ingredients – ingredients that are low value to you and high value to me. If you have an oversupply of blueberries or if you don’t like blueberries, then you can make me happy quite easily at little cost to yourself. 

My latest example of this occurred in between the first and second drafts of this newsletter. I am negotiating with an employment agency for a new personal assistant. They had not been able to find a secretary with audio typing skills willing to work as a self-employed person. 

Then one day I was discussing the job with Lorna, who is now doing the work temporarily and cannot stay on. As we talked, I suddenly realised I had an ingredient available that I had never mentioned. I will require my new assistant to attend each of the courses we offer so that she or he can then do marketing calls and follow-up calls from a base of knowing the course. 

When I mentioned this new ingredient to the agency they immediately produced three new candidates for the job. 

It seems that the benefit of free training courses and the chance to do marketing are quite attractive. This makes the job appeal to more highly-qualified candidates. So all of us – the candidates, the agency, and me - are going to get more than we expected. 

Just the idea of there being more cake available seems difficult for many of us to accept. If I am dealing with someone who feels that way, then I need to listen extra carefully to what she or he wants and work hard to find ingredients that will meet those wants. It can be done and the resulting cake always tastes better. 

So I am learning that there is more than one way to slice a cake. I can use all my energy to push hard for the biggest possible share of a limited cake. Or I can move away for awhile and hope that there will be more cake later on. Or I can work with the other party to put more ingredients on the table so that together we can bake a new cake. 

LEARNING: If we work with a full range of varied ingredients, we can bake a nutritious new cake.