Why is BNP 18 -- demonstrating fairness -- so Powerful?
Consistency – a desire to appear fair – is inherent in us, probably as a long established societal norm that has become part of an ingrained but subconscious collective memory, and is not culture-specific.
- We are comfortable when we can stay within our own past agreements and processes
- We are uncomfortable when we are asking for something outside the standards we have previously employed
People even think arbitrary processes are fair, such as drawing lots, flipping a coin. There is an inherent chance of fairness because each side has an equal shot, even though the result may not be equal.
This overwhelming desire to appear consistent is the underlying psychological driver behind BNP 18 – the use of legitimate sources and why it's so powerful in negotiations. There are also other psychological drivers that magnify the power of legitimacy, objective criteria and independent standards.
Our Psychological Drivers
- Desire to appear consistent. This psychological driver is so powerful, that it becomes a double-edged sword. Beware of the consistency trap – when they get you to agree to a standard. Rephrase the standard in broad terms – "That standard would seem to fit as long as the situations (time frame, industry, market dynamics) are similar, but here…. Let's look at the actual data!
- Credibility . Finding standards that apply, even asking what standards the other side used to develop its position, gives you a speaking role in the negotiation outside of posturing about your position. Talking about something beyond your self-serving statements of what you want leads the other side to trust you more. When they trust you as credible, they become more open to your position.
- Safety in numbers. A powerful principle of socialization: When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look outside themselves and to other people around them to guide their decisions and actions. If it is a standard good for most, it's good for us.
- The Written Word. If it's written, it feels real. It doesn't matter if it's an unproven study, a company's one-sided policy, or a detailed contract. We tend to give information more weight once it is written down. We can't help ourselves – probably a result of when history went from word of mouth, to writings.
Use the Power of legitimacy, objective criteria, and independent standards
Persuade with the Sword : "Let me show you why this is fair…"
Set the standard in your favor – but to maintain credibility make sure the standard is reasonable and justified in these circumstances.
Or Defend with the Shield: "Help me understand why you think my standard applies?" Defend your position by asking them to tell you what about it they don't think is fair.
Challenge: "Why do you think your standard is fair?"
Challenge their proposal or reasoning by showing that it deviates too far from the norm, the standard of independent or objective minds. Probe – ask "What's your basis or theory for that position?" Don't attack the PERSON. And, rather than attack the POSITION, embark on a discussion about the basis, the standard on which position is based.
Push past impasse: Agreeing over a trend, or cultural norm, or data or index is often easier than agreeing over substance. For example, "We feel the raw materials price will go up, and you feel it will go down. So we can't agree on a product price. But surely we can agree that the price of the needed raw material is volatile and out of our control. So let's tie the product price to a quarterly adjustment under an index we both rely upon. … Now we can negotiate discuss whether we should readjust price quarterly, monthly, etc., but we no longer have to argue over which direction the price of the raw materials is likely to go."
Turn competitor negotiator into collaborator: Using BNP 18 helps to turn hard/tactical negotiator (win-lose) into a collaborator if you can use settling on a process as a way to find common ground. Collaborate on the right standard and the hard negotiator gets excited over collaborating.
Gain leverage: use BNP 18 as a tactic for short-term advantage:
Elegant way to say No without saying "No". "That has been our policy for many years and all other parties have agreed to it," Use the policy or cultural norm to explain why you can't possibly give them what they are asking for, and then PROBE to find out why they want it.
Buy time to think – "What you have presented is very interesting. It's a lot of data (or a different way of looking at things, or a standard I am not familiar with), so let me take it back to the team and give it some thought."
Use BNP 18 Strategically
Master negotiators are thoughtful in how they use BNP 18, prioritizing strategies for best advantage. Most typical prioritization follows:
1st choice: Can we get what we want by using their standards and criteria?
- Fit into their standard if you can to get what you want. They will be driven to be fair, and remain consistent to their past practices.
- Using the other side's standards feels like a major concession in their favor, allowing you to hold back other concessions.
- They will also feel respected because you accepted their standard. This feeling will motivate them to give you more.
2nd choice: Can we fit into an exception to their standard and criteria?
- Prepare to show you are a recognized exception to their standard – again, they will be driven by the need to be consistent.
3rd choice: Attack their justification with persuasive arguments and be prepared to defend yours; be prepared to use psychological drivers:
- Consistency with past practice
- Safety in numbers: lots of other suppliers/customers/partners/colleagues have already signed on
- It's written – bring the "document" with you
4th choice: Joint search for independent standards and criteria. All standards are not created equal; Make a joint search for independent standards.
- Standards must be relevant. You are combining openness to reason with insistence on a solution based on something widely accepted, objective or independent.
- Identify standards the other side may use (not just your preferences) and prepare legitimate bases for any objection.
- Who issues the standard often matters.
- Prevailing standards and criteria differ depending on country, culture, industry, market pressures, timing. An acceptable standard may be different in Frankfurt than it is in Shanghai, different in oil than in healthcare, different in recessions than in booms.
- Beware of mystical math and other seemingly objective facts. Test the other side's assertions.
- Probe to explore for exceptions, arbitrariness, parameters and other creative options whether the standard is in writing or not.
Standards can be tricky: When a hardball negotiator is using a seemingly legitimate source, objective criteria or independent standard, be wary. Hardball negotiators use this best practice in a tactical way, and their standards need to be verified. Not all standards are created equal!