Walking Away Equally Unhappy

Ever hear the phrase “a good negotiation is one where both parties walk equally unhappy?”

I’ve heard it attributed to various negotiation programs, and always intuitively knew it felt wrong. Applied to the metaphor of relationships, which I feel is a better metaphor for matters of trust, it comes up wanting.

In the relationship metaphor world, “both parties walking away equally unhappy” is a recipe for divorce.


I figured that for a tidy little blog topic, so I googled the phrase “walk away equally unhappy”—but found only eleven instances in total.

Of the eleven, only three used the phrase approvingly: once by a divorce attorney, once by an estate lawyer, and once by an online commenter talking about buying used cars online. Hey, I just report the news.

Most uses of the phrase were said by way of disapproval—the bulk coming from Diane Levin. Diane is a lawyer by training, but a mediator by inclination. An early champion of ADR (alternative dispute resolution), it’s clear from her writings (I don’t know her personally beyond her “about me” section) she is well versed in and receptive to the idea that one plus one is very much what we make of it.
Whether the arena is corporate negotiations or divorce or contract disputes, her motto is “only connect,” which she does online as well as in real life. Negotiations need not be adversarial interactions; each such interaction is another opportunity to create unlimited value.

At the risk of appearing un-objective—she is completely right.

Yul Brynner reportedly said, “We come into this world alone, and we leave it the same way; if someone offers you friendship along the way, you don’t spit on it.” That’s the minimalist, barebones, ironic statement of the proposition. It’s true even said that way.

We have a choice about how to deal with others. We can take the risks of trusting, and of being trusted. Or we can shut down. If we do the former, sometimes we get burned. That’s life.

Butif we spend our lives, and build our institutions, and conduct our economies, so as to avoid getting burned, we end up losing our life too. Just a little more slowly, and qualitatively. But no less in the end.

Kudos to Diane, who won’t settled for people walking away equally unhappy. Good for you.