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Are we trying to beat each other or the virus?

Self Interest v Mutual interest – a Lesson from Covid

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Whether to act in self interest or not is a decision which needs to be made before any negotiation – it is what will in part drive your strategy. However, it is not always as straightforward a decision as it first seems.

When is it best to act in a ways purely motivated by self interest? A price increase? The unilateral termination of a contract?

And when is it best to act with mutual interest as your priority? A joint venture? A new distributor agreement?

And when should we act in mutual interest because it is the best way of serving our own interests anyway?

I’d like to look at the lessons from the vaccine roll-out as an example of the latter. Consider that you are in charge of a government such as the UK or USA. You have the means to secure large volumes of the vaccine in order to get ahead of other countries in the race against the virus so that you can re-open your businesses and get your society back to normal. Great for your country, and a sure fire PR triumph and vote winner.

But what we know about this virus is that as it spreads it mutates. As it passes from one person to another and a copy is made in the new ‘host’, sometimes you get a corruption in the copy – the same as when you copy anything on great scale (and then copy the copy etc). It’s these inaccurate copies that cause mutations which can behave in different ways; they can spread more easily and quickly, have different symptoms and/or be more resistant to existing vaccines.  

So we don’t know whether all of these mutations (or ‘variants’) will be adequately dealt with by the current vaccines.

If the virus stops spreading, it stops mutating.

The so-called Indian variant is a case in point. India’s struggles against Covid are well publicised, and one factor is the relatively low number of people who have been vaccinated. As of 6 May, only 3% of India’s population have been fully vaccinated. Compare this with 30% in the UK, and almost 50% who have received one dose.

Once a country such as the UK has had most of its population vaccinated it feels confident enough to relax all restrictions, in part to understandable pressure to get business back to normal, apart from all other areas of life.

But what if at the same time a mutation happens somewhere in the world which is resistant to the current vaccines? Restrictions on travel to and from the UK has been relaxed and variants are able to travel to the UK relatively easily. Pretty soon the UK is back to square one, or at least a few steps back.

How about a different approach. If the vaccination program is coordinated on a global level (by the UN/WHO) this would mean that areas that need it would get it first, which would actually be in all of our interests. But here’s the rub: it would need to be financed and facilitated by richer countries such as the UK and the US.

It would take a brave politician to stand up and say that they were going to pay for other countries to receive the vaccination first, keeping their own citizens in some degree of Are lockdown for longer. What would you do?

Just because it is easier to act in an overtly self interest manner, does that make it the right thing to do?

The sooner the virus is prevented from spreading and therefore mutating, the better for everyone. It is in fact an example of where acting in the mutual interest could also mean acting in self-interest.

After all it’s the virus that we’re trying to beat, not each other.

Another example much closer to home is that of a divorce. If you act in purely self-interest, then I’ll bet that the party who does the best out of it is the lawyer. Not that I’m comparing divorce lawyers to viruses of course.

Consider about how this applies to your negotiations. Think creatively in terms of truly understanding how you and the other party can help each other. Write out your priorities and theirs, then speak to them about it. They will only be open with you about their problems and concerns if you are about yours.


collaboration, covid, negotiation

Dan Hughes

He has specialised in negotiation consulting since 2005, and set up his own business in 2012 bringing this expertise to businesses small and large in all parts of the world. This company - bridge][ability ltd - runs behavioural and strategic planning negotiation skills programs which transform capabilities and has a client list which includes Tesco, The FA, Fujitsu, Capita, Reiss, Take 2 Interactive (the company behind Grand Theft Auto), BBC Worldwide and Channel 4.