If you’ve ever played arm wrestling, you may be familiar with competitiveness. In a game where two opposing forces meet to play, what seemingly appears a commonality is how the main goal of each player becomes to defeat one’s opponent. This adversarial mentality is what usually takes place when negotiating, where two parties avoid making concessions, just like in arm wrestling players tense their arms to surpass their partner by a few points. Yet, what if one actor were to ease his arm, creating some form of connection where points can ultimately be achieved by both players? Let’s dive into affiliation.
In their book Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro explore emotions and how they can improve our relationships during negotiations if handled well. Here, both authors ingeniously explain that, just like in arm wrestling, when we negotiate we tend to mistakenly see our counterparty as an adversary, and this mentality is what triggers negative emotions evoked by confrontation. However, in spite of our differences, humans always share some sort of connection that can be exploited to reach common grounds, and this is where affiliation can strive.
In the context of a game like arm wrestling, players are highly aware as to how many points the other player has. This becomes a motive to use their force to outrace their points at all costs, by making their adversary’s arm touch the table. When negotiating in any work or informal setting, a similar approach happens. Partners forget they are attempting to reach an agreement, and regardless of their intention, they engage with conflictive communication to force the success of their demands. It then becomes inevitable – we rather seek to meet our own interests, and not ease this tension with partnership or collaboration. This heightens the risk of an undesirable outcome if poorly managed: the straining of a relationship with our communication and decision-making.
Affiliation is all about connection
Affiliation adopts quite an opposite approach. Instead of distancing ourselves from one another to maximize the success of one’s demands, we cleverly attempt to close this gap by creating some connection with another peer or group for the sake of working better together. Whether by promoting informal conversations, or hosting in-person rather than online meetings, building affiliation is what helps two people to negotiate by feeling closer together, evoking positive emotions in spite of each other’s differences in personalities or demands.
Unlike confrontation, affiliation is all about connection. After all, affiliation implies being closely associated with a person or group. According to David McClelland’s ‘Three Needs Theory’, humans are driven by three basic elements: affiliation, achievement and power, where people who are driven by affiliation have a desire to belong to some group, and find enjoyment in developing connections. To give an example, if enhancing affiliation in a workplace context, those individuals who seek to connect with others would regard their peers as coworkers when negotiating. Individuals who practice affiliation would thus feel motivated to promote an environment of clear communication, closer relationships, and foster a sense of community.
Is there a difference in how we connect with others?
Due to its benefits, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro also distinguish the different types of connections that can be reached through affiliation, and help us shift away from conflict. On one hand, with structural connections, we would discover any common memberships that we have with another person. Having gone to the same university or coming from the same country or culture are certainly things that make us feel keener to develop some fellowship with those who are similar to us. Talking about the weather or maintaining too formal conversations are usually not.
On the other hand, there is personal connection, which goes a step further by incorporating even more private concerns or interests that also seem to affect both parties. In some regions like Latin America, to build trust among businessmen requires personal connection before negotiation. Although this may vary across cultures, connection is key to establishing trustworthiness.
With either type of connection, we must always bear in mind that to enhance a feeling of affiliation, we must not only show what we ourselves care about, but also hear what our colleagues are interested in or their concerns.
To bond with someone is a matter of initiative
Although affiliation is commonly associated with memberships to any party or ideology in areas like politics or religion, affiliation in general encompasses any tie or common membership that connects us with one another. Now that we are aware that the connection is created with affiliation, we must still understand that building affiliation is not necessarily an initiative we take to bond with someone at a personal level, but rather for them to work as cooperators solving a conflict of interest.
Connection is not merely rational.
It is true that negotiations take place in different contexts, whether in group projects, international relations conferences, business meetings, or even solving daily life situations at our own homes. However, one thing is for sure, and it is that seeking to assert some dominance in our conversation is not the right means to our own end. On the contrary, we must see ourselves as the ones who can always take the first step. To reduce this emotional distance, we can always show some interest to find out a little more about the other partner, and be open to listen to both sides, to see what each has to say about their own concerns. After all, connection is not merely rational. This is the true essence of affiliation.