Discussion – The 17 Camels

Negotiations do not always have to have winners and losers – win-win situations do exist. William L. Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In, uses a parable to describe this type of situation, which often requires a great deal of creativity. You can find a video of this parable here. (The story ends at 1:35). Here is an approximate transcript if you are unable to view the video:

A man left to his three sons 17 camels. To the first son he left half the camels, to the second son he left a third of the camels and to the youngest son he left a ninth of the camels. The three sons got into a negotiation — 17 doesn’t divide by 2, it doesn’t divide by 3, and it doesn’t divide by 9. Brotherly tempers started to get strained. Finally, in desperation, they went and consulted a wise old woman.

The wise old woman thought about their problem for a long time and finally she came back and said “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want you can have my camel.” So then they had 18 camels. The first son took his half (half of 18 is 9), the second son took his third (a third of 18 is 6), and the youngest son took his ninth (a ninth of 18 is 2).

If you add that up you have 17 camels… They had one camel left over. They gave it back to the wise old woman.

As Ury says in his talk, a lot of our negotiations often look like 17 camels until we step back and take a look at them with a different perspective and come up with an 18th camel.

Using concepts from the text, describe a situation where you have had to step back from a negotiation and exercise creativity to resolve the issue at hand. Alternatively, you can describe a situation where you felt that you couldn’t apply concepts of integrative bargaining.

This is a discussion question. Response must be between 75 to 150 words but may go longer depending on the topic. Please cite any outside sources.

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