Do you go into negotiations expecting to win? Is your main strategy to get what YOU want at the expense of the other party? Do you feel on edge during negotiations? Do you find your negotiations sometimes descend into aggression, argument and attrition?
Then you are not alone. It turns out that many people find negotiations stressful. Indeed, many people are frightened or apprehensive about going into a negotiation. For most of us, negotiating with another party is all about conflict – a literal fight for supremacy. Who will emerge victorious? Who will have to compromise the most? Who will be the loser this time round?
We are often told that negotiation is all about winning. We are encouraged to get as much out of the other party as possible. Knock the buggers down, take as much as possible from them.
This is approach is incredibly disabling. What makes matters worse is that negotiation is not limited to meetings with suppliers or third parties. Virtually every conversation we have in business with any party, including our colleagues, is a negotiation of some sort. So we are subconsciously fighting for supremacy in almost every business conversation we have.
Is it any wonder that our organisations are full of game-playing?
The word negotiation simply means a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement about a particular situation. If you’re fearful or apprehensive about negotiating, virtually every business conversation becomes more difficult than it should be. Equally, if you approach negotiation as a battle for supremacy, then every business conversation takes on an elevated level of drama as you subconsciously fight your way towards victory.
So often during a negotiation, differences emerge between you and the other party. Attempting to work through these differences most often results in intense emotions, disagreement and arguments until neither party involved is able to recall or focus on the original purpose of the negotiation. Most negotiations of this type never reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Negotiation is one of THE most important business behaviours and therefore our approach to it is profoundly affects the success of our organisations.
The cause of all the difficulties I have described lies in our approach to negotiation. The way we think and the way we behave when negotiating with others is hard wired into us. Subconsciously, we all know that something isn’t working, but it goes unquestioned. We all continue to negotiate in the same way, getting the same unsatisfactory results.
So how do we usually approach negotiations in our organisations? Let me explain.
Usually, we will establish a position – i.e what we want out of the negotiation. This position will be fixed and our aim on entering the negotiation will be to protect our position and give away as little as possible. Of course, the other party in a negotiation will be doing the exact same thing. This is a recipe for WAR. What usually ensues is a form of positional bargaining – a kind of mini-drama in which both parties haggle from their fixed positions in an attempt to reach agreement on a single, unifying position. The reality is that this positional mindset often prevents an objective and useful agreement from being reached, leading to arbitrary compromises, unsatisfactory outcomes, damaged relationships and disappointment. (By the way, if you want to see positional bargaining in action, watch BBC Parliament.)
In short, both parties are so obsessed with winning – ensuring they satisfy their positional requirements, that they are unable to focus on the purpose of the negotiation.
When we are being positional, we are also unable to relate to the other person in the negotiation. We don’t understand their values, what drives them, their emotional state. We miss body language, verbal cues and facial expression. We are blind to the person we’re working with – effectively reducing them to an adversary that must be conquered.
The antidote to this problem is an alternative mindset. I personally describe this mindset as Objective Negotiation.
Objective Negotiation is a fundamentally different approach that does not involve winning or losing, emotional investment, compromises or disagreement. It is based on an open understanding of the problem to be resolved and the use of objective criteria to allow both parties to work together to intelligently determine the most appropriate solution.
In an Objective Negotiation, we seek to identify the problem requiring a solution, the possible options and their implications and the most appropriate solution using objective facts. The key aspects of this approach are as follows:
1. Identify the problem requiring a solution
Separate the people and their position from the problem at hand. Instead of articulating their position, both parties should agree on the unifying problem that requires a solution. What is the purpose of the negotiation? What is the problem that needs to be solved?
2. Focus on values, not individual positions
Most traditional negotiations focus on the individual parties positions. In an Objective Negotiation, we understand that the underlying interests and motivations, the valuesthat drive both parties, are often very similar. By focussing on understanding each other’s values, the parties are able to see and understand how closely aligned they actually are, thus dissolving a common opportunity for conflict.
3. Determine objective facts about the situation
In many traditional negotiations, subjective opinions are treated as facts. In an Objective Negotiation, both parties seek to understand the objective facts of the situation – what can be verified as true in reality, so that sensible decisions as to the most appropriate solution can be made.
4. Generate different options to solve the problem
All too often, very few options are considered during a negotiation. With both parties seeking to assert their positions, there is a subconscious limitation on the number of options open to discussion. Emotional investment makes certain options unpalatable. An objective negotiator will seek to understand every possible option that may allow the problem to be resolved. These options will be analysed in light of the objective facts of the situation and the values of both parties.
5. Establish the likely implications of each option
For each option in an Objective Negotiation, both parties work together to understand the likely implications of each option over short, medium and long term time periods, in order to inform decision making.
6. Objectively select the most appropriate solution to solve the problem
The final outcome of an Objective Negotiation is a mutual agreement on the most appropriate solution to the problem at hand. This outcome will be based on objective criteria arrived at through a logical thinking process as opposed to a positional argument.
So here we have a completely different approach to negotiation that is not based on two parties asserting their positions and trying to win, but on both working together to determine the most appropriate solution to the problem at hand.
When you approach a negotiation in this way, the potential for conflict is diffused and the result is a mutually agreeable solution. You could say that this means both parties win.
Skills For Getting To “Yes”
To be successful at objective negotiation, you will need a palette of behavioural and thinking skills to work with. Some of the most important include:
1. Communication Skills
Build rapport with the other party. Recognise their verbal and non-verbal cues. Manage your own body language – what messages are you giving to the other party? Express thoughts and ideas with clarity. Be specific.
2. Creative Thinking
Think widely to determine potential solutions. Be flexible – don’t get hung up on your presuppositions. Get knowledge to allow all possible options to be identified and explored.
Pace and lead the other party towards objective appraisal of the facts. Recognise and manage their emotional state. Guide them away from their fixed position towards solving the problem.
Know when to be more specific or more general – if a negotiation is stuck on specifics, try being more general (chunking up). If things are excessively generalised, try steering the negotiation to specifics (chunking down).
So try approaching your next negotiation in an objective manner. Sometimes when you forget about trying to win in a negotiation, everyone wins.
As always, if you would value a conversation about how Objective Negotiation can be applied within your organisation, I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.