Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Heads I Win, Tails I Win (and the Same to You)

Negotiation is such a fundamental “threshold” skill that it’s nearly impossible for you to succeed long-term without developing skills in this area.  Unfortunately, many people get the wrong idea about what negotiation is and how works.

The distaste that some people feel for the concept of negotiation results from seeing negotiation as “win/lose” (I win, you lose) or “lose/win” (I give up rather than make an enemy out of you) rather than “win/win” (we both come out of the negotiation with our needs met).  In addition to moral or ethical qualms, the reality is that we leave someone unhappy, and that person is unlikely to forget.  We will have to deal with the leftover negativity at some future time.  “Win/win” approaches aren’t just nice, they’re necessary for our long-term relationships and performance.

But how is it possible to negotiate and have both parties win?

Understanding “win/win”

Negotiation isn’t simply about compromise (let’s just split it 50-50).  While sometimes a compromise solution in which each party gives a little bit is acceptable, often a compromise turns into “lose/lose.”

Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project point out that in many negotiations the participants see a “fixed pie,” but that it’s often possible to “expand the pie.”

They tell the story of “the proverbial sisters who quarreled over an orange.  After they finally agreed to divide the orange in half, the first sister took her half, ate the fruit, and threw away the peel, while the other threw away the fruit and used the peel from her half in baking a cake.”

In other words, “common sense” would suggest the orange could only be split in such a way that the parts added up to 100%, but this particular orange could have been split 100-100, not 50-50...because the two sisters had different yet complementary interests!

The “win/win” concept of negotiation emphasizes that preserving the relationship is an important goal in most negotiations, and that’s particularly crucial when the other participant in negotiation happens to be your boss.  You might be able to force your desires through his or her resistance, but you have to expect him or her to remember that in the future.  “If you wrong us,” Shylock says, “shall we not revenge?”

Win/win isn’t only ethically superior, it’s more practical as well.

Hard” vs. “soft” styles

You can make a lifetime study of negotiation, and it will benefit you in every area of your life.  It’s worth adding to your list of areas for personal and professional development, because you will ultimately find yourself in continual negotiation situations.  Negotiation styles are sometimes divided into “soft” and “hard,” but that’s not a very meaningful distinction.

The Fisher/Ury Getting to Yes techniques are sometimes referred to as “soft” because they involve collegiality and teamwork.  But even in a “hard” negotiation program such as Roger Dawson’s excellent The Secrets of Power Negotiating, you’ll find his commitment to “win/win” negotiation, “a) Never narrow negotiations down to just one issue.  b) Different people want different things.”

Some key principles of win/win negotiation

As you study negotiation skills, you’ll find that different authorities have certain specific detailed and tactical suggestions.  However, some general principles of effective negotiation are common to the various styles and strategies.

1. Do your homework.

Before negotiating anything with anybody, there are a couple of things you should do.
First, analyze your own goal, making sure that you focus on your interests (the reasons you want what you want) instead of only your positions (the specifics for which you’re asking.  The position of the sisters was that each wanted the orange.  To find the underlying interests, you focus on why.  Why do you want the orange?  What exactly would you do with it if you had it all?  What would not be useful or necessary for you?

Second, determine your bottom line.  What do you need--and what is the best you can do assuming that the negotiation goes nowhere?  You need to know this so you’ll know when you’re getting results...and so you won’t take an offer that’s less than what you’d get if there is no deal.  Fisher and Ury call this your “BATNA”:  your “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.”   Roger Dawson calls it “walk-away power.”

Third, put yourself in the shoes of the other person and do the same thing.  The more you understand the interests and goals of the other participant--and their own BATNA or walk-away options, the easier you’ll find it to locate win/win options.

2. Listen—for the real issues.

Being a good listener is a valuable negotiation technique for several reasons.  First, your understanding of the other person grows, which helps you in working toward the best outcome.  Second, when you listen, you automatically validate the other person, lowering their stress and emotions, and create a climate in which better results can occur.  Paraphrase what you’re being told to make sure you understand it fully.

3. Be persistent and patient.

You want to negotiate in order to achieve results for both parties.  Surrendering and giving in are examples of lose/win, not win/win strategies.  Keep your dignity and your personal strength intact by refusing to yield to hardball tactics and pressure.  One reason to study such tactics yourself is that it becomes easier to counter them in practice.

Being in a hurry to reach a deal often gives you a worse deal than you’d get with patience.  If a particular round of negotiation isn’t panning out successfully, maybe it’s time to walk away for now, think about what you’ve learned, and try again later.

4. Be clear and assertive.

You’ve heard it said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”  That’s true even in cases where the other person isn’t necessarily hostile or negative to your interests.  If you don’t ask, there is a good chance the other person doesn’t even know what it is you want--and if he or she doesn’t know, how can you expect him or her to read your mind?  One of the most interesting elements of preparing well for a negotiation is how often you get your needs met without actually encountering the resistance you expected!

5. Allow face-saving.

When a negotiation or conflict situation ends up making one person be “in the wrong,” don’t be surprised if that person feels negative about it.  Being embarrassed or humiliated is not a positive emotion.  When you must show your boss that he or she is incorrect, or has made a mistake, or has make a bad decision, you not only have to get the situation corrected, you have to resolve the emotional issues in a way to allow your boss to “save face.”

Some techniques for face-saving include the “third party appeal,” in which you don’t say, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” but instead find a neutral third party (such as a reference book) that you’ll use to resolve the issue.  Another valuable technique is privacy.  It’s easier to admit to one person that one is wrong than admit it publicly to everyone.  (And never gloat afterward!)  A third is to find a way to allow the person to be partially right, or to allow yourself to be partially wrong.  (At least you can always allow for the possibility of improvement.)

You negotiate every day of your life and with all the people in your life.  Don’t wait until you are in a major conflict situation with the power dynamic stacked against you to develop this skill.

From Managing UP: 59 Ways to Build a Career-Advancing Relationship With Your Boss, by Michael and Deborah Singer Dobson (AMACOM, 2000). Copyright © 2000 Michael and Deborah Dobson. All Rights Reserved.

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