Negotiation Blog

Can you shift your negotiating counterpart from hardball to collaborator?

By Marianne Eby

Getting your negotiating counterpart to turn collaborative is no easy task. One strategy is to diplomatically confront the behavioral problem by offering your hardball counterpart a chance to save face and proceed on a more collaborative path.

Last month I received a Need Help Now call from a former workshop participant (let’s call him John) who was struggling with an extremely difficult negotiating counterpart (let’s call him Jessie) from an important customer. John reported some success to me today.

Jessie constantly made demands and focused on penalties for late deliveries, but John felt sure that if Jessie would just discuss the situation more openly, they could solve the problems they were having with delivery expectations and compliance. John felt attacked from the start of any conversation with Jessie, and although he promised himself he wouldn’t do so, ultimately he would respond in kind, thus escalating the tension between them.

We discussed several strategies to turn Jessie into a more collaborative negotiator, at least in his conversations with John.

When the next delivery problem occurred, John tried the first strategy -- to model collaborative behavior. Rather than respond directly to Jessie’s accusations and demands, he posed possible solutions and suggested alternatives. He was persistent, but seemed to hit a brick wall. As we had planned, though, he ended the conversation in a friendly tone and promised to look into the situation and call back tomorrow.

When John called Jessie the next day, he tried the second strategy -- he confronted the behavioral problem rather than move straight to the delivery issues on the table. He told Jessie that he was really glad to have this chance to talk with him again, because he realized now why their conversations might have been so tense, and that he hoped he could do his part for them to find a better approach. He told Jessie that he read some recent press about his employer, and saw that there had been a lot of layoffs recently. He could understand if there was a lot of pressure on Jessie to deliver results, and he wanted to find some solutions so that the problem with late deliveries would end. He asked Jessie if he would work with him to make their conversations more productive.

John reports that he and Jessie started talking about the layoffs, and Jessie’s worries that he could be next. What followed was their most productive conversation about how to solve the delivery timelines. By the end of the conversation, Jessie actually apologized if he was difficult to deal with, and thanked John for working the problems out with him.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating via email, establish rapport first: start with a telephone call or web conference. Even better, if possible, start with a face-to-face meeting.


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Negotiation Blog

Can you negotiate with someone who doesn’t seem to know how?

By Thomas Wood

What if someone you are dealing with seems unable or unwilling to negotiate? You sense that, for personal or cultural reasons, or because of inexperience, they don’t warm to, or recognize, your attempts to open negotiations. Do you give up?

This was the question that came over our Need Help Now web advice service, in which one of our workshop participants was was dealing with a new buyer at a key customer. Often we see a disinclination to negotiate from very smart technical people, such as scientists, technologists (techies, IT, programmers), and engineers. We also see it in the helping professions (researchers, nurses, doctors, laboratory technologists). It applies equally to someone who has resources you need, or authority to give you something you want (a promotion, a better assignment, an extension on a deadline). Your assessment of the “negotiation environment” tells you that despite your counterpart’s inexperience or unwillingness when it comes to negotiating, a collaborative negotiation would indeed yield a great outcome for both sides.

Let’s start with the absolute DON’Ts:
1. Don’t ask them to ‘negotiate’ with you. Such an approach runs the risk of raising red flags and making them nervous. If they feel intimidated, they will avoid further conversation. If they believe negotiating is akin to arguing or win/lose and they are conflict averse, they will either retreat or take a hardball stance.
2. Don’t make any offers (demands, proposals) until they do.

So what do you do?
When dealing with a novice or non-negotiator, try to transform the interaction into one where the other party feels like they are simply having a conversation. Remember, collaborative negotiation is at its heart a conversation, only with a goal of expanding value.

How to begin?
Model the characteristics of a collaborative negotiator:

  • Build in more time for developing rapport and trust. Find a mutual interest, pay a true compliment, find common ground.
  • Prepare more thoroughly. You may need to do some research to find out what your counterpart’s interests are so that you can ask questions that elicit them – he or she might not know the company's needs yet.
  • Probe with care. As always, ask open-ended questions. Show genuine interest and listen carefully to the answers. Ask follow-up questions that make it clear you were listening. Discover their interests, needs and goals.
  • Talk in term of WE. Focus on creating a cooperative discussion, using the word “we.” (“I think we agree the timetable is important; let’s talk about how we can make that happen.”)
  • Paint a picture of a possible collaboration, proposing options and possibilities without commitment. Say “what would it look like if we….”

The idea is to uncover their interests and fears, to gain their trust, and help them see how you can arrive at a “win-win” solution. If you do that, you may find yourself developing a joint agenda and moving into bargaining without your uneasy counterpart ever realizing they are negotiating.

Negotiating Tip

Debriefing key negotiations makes you a better negotiator. Reflection on what worked and didn’t is money in the negotiating bank.


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Negotiation Blog

Check Your Negotiator Blind Spots

By Thomas Wood

Did you ever have a negotiation where you felt well prepared going in, but during the discussions you became frustrated? For most of us, frustration brings out our worst instincts and behaviors, ultimately leading to a poor outcome.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you see if you were held back by any of the common negotiator blind spots.

Answer Yes or No: 
  1. Are you good at picking your battles?
  2. Do you consider it a successful resolution if you get everything you or your company wants without making concessions?
  3. Do you think that usually the best solutions come from the options offered by you or the other parties at the start of the negotiation?
  4. Do you tire of listening to the other side’s version of events and perspective on their own needs, and prefer moving forward with the agenda?
  5. Do you value objectivity and pride yourself on sticking to the facts in your negotiations?
  6. Do you act in a certain way to ensure people know you are a strong negotiator?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions above, you may be suffering from one of the common negotiator blind spots. While teaching our negotiation workshops, we have found that participants often fall prey to these blind spots:

Battle Alert: He believes that it is important to pick his battles because negotiations are battles. He does not believe that a win-win outcome is actually possible, and thus approaches every interaction as a competition.

  • Attitude is everything in collaborative negotiations! Enter your next negotiation as a discussion, and you may find the battle never was.

Give nothing/get nothing: She figured out what was fair long before the two parties started talking. She wants to achieve her goal, and show that she is a strong negotiator by giving nothing away.

  • Negotiation is about getting, AND giving. Good negotiators come prepared to give concessions. You may get everything and give nothing, but don’t fool yourself. The party that feels "taken" will find a way to get it back.

There’s only one way to skin a cat: He has an idea of what will satisfy his counterpart, and has listened carefully to his counterpart’s idea. Both ideas were part of the opening offers. One of these ideas will win the day, or perhaps parts of each idea. Let’s decide and move on.

  • The best ideas result from discourse, not solo genius. Very rarely does our first idea prove to be the best. Take comfort in knowing that the 3rd crazy suggestion might lead to a novel approach that is more mutually satisfying to the parties.

Can you hear me listening?: She has listened so much that she tires of the other side talking. Her counterpart feels that he hasn’t been heard. Was she listening loudly enough?

  • Listening is not a silent or passive activity. It involves attitude, body language and follow-up that convince the other side you wanted to hear what they had to say. Sometimes, active listening – sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation and asking relevant follow-up questions – is the largest concession you will have to give.

Just the facts, ma’am: He prides himself on his objectivity. The numbers tell it all. We just have to stick to the facts and the negotiation will progress.

  • People, not institutions, negotiate. People have history – his-story. Some stories are personal (ego, mood, fears), and some stories arise from circumstances. Ask for your counterpart’s story, and tell yours. Stories engage, leading to more open discussion and mutually satisfying solutions.

Never let ‘em see you sweat: She feels intimidated by her counterpart’s experience or reputation. He’s known to get what he wants. She intends to show him from the start that she’s no pushover and is tough as nails.

  • Reciprocity is an ancient concept. You be bad and he be bad back. The best way to set the tone is to prove yourself as a worthy negotiator. Prove you did your homework. Prove you came to listen, learn, and give. Prove you can be creative. Prove you can be trusted. Your best leverage is your skill as a negotiator.

These natural inclinations and defenses can blind us from success in our negotiations. See clearly now.

Negotiating Tip

Research and know the people, not just the organization, issues, history, and objectives.


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Negotiation Blog

Are You Ready To Negotiate? 5 Steps To Take If You're Not

By Thomas Wood

What if you find yourself in a negotiation you're not prepared for?

At one of our workshops recently, a petroleum landman, who negotiates mineral and land rights, asked this question. Earlier that week he had received a phone call from a corporate executive with whom he eventually hoped to negotiate land leases.

He had begun his research, and knew some things about the land value, the corporate owner, and the executive. But when this executive called him out of the blue and started shooting out ideas, making offers, and using terms he didn't understand, the landman stumbled. He said that by the end of the call he had a sour taste in his mouth. The class came up with 5 powerful steps to turn lemon into lemonade.

Our client had found himself, unprepared, in the middle of a negotiation that he hadn't meant to start yet. He didn't know whether it was more important to try to capitalize on the moment, the enthusiasm, and the momentum, or whether to stall. He also wondered if the executive had purposely tried to catch him unprepared in order to gain an advantage. 

What would a master negotiator do?

There are certainly times and places for informal, impromptu bargaining. Much negotiation is accomplished at cocktail parties or business meals that are ostensibly social occasions, and in all bargaining learning to improvise is a key part of your skill-set as a negotiator.  

But improvised negotiations are an oxymoron, because they are the purposeful result of much planning. Improvised negotiations are for negotiators whose interests, positions, goals, and arguments are so familiar to them that they can talk about them spontaneously. In web designer blog "A List Apart" awhile ago, we ran across "Improvising in the Boardroom," which describes the advantages of improvising a presentation to a client if you really know your subject. "What you really bring to bear in the moment is not a rehearsed plan, but the sum total of your cumulative knowledge and experience to that point."

So when you find yourself in a negotiation or an exchange you're not prepared for, as in our landman's situation, or even something smaller in scale in the elevator or at a cocktail party, don't try to think on your feet.

Five steps you should take:

1) Stay calm. Thinking is short-circuited by anxiety. Deep breathing convinces your body and brain that it is calm and protects your cognitive ability.

2) Compliment the other party on his or her obvious expertise, and use this conversation as a chance to show respect and begin developing rapport.

3) Ask "dumb" questions (this is when "dumb is smart"). Say "clearly, you know a lot about this -- explain x to me." Change the nature of the phone call from a bargaining session to an information exchange, and take notes on answers that are useful to your process. Let them know you're taking notes, and repeat things back to them to slow the process down.

4) Buy yourself time. After a brief exchange that provides you information and builds rapport, get off the phone. Say "look, it's really great talking to you, you have some great ideas and I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot from you. I was about to head into another meeting when you called -- can I call you back?" Then do not pass go, do not collect $200, but go directly to your other meeting with yourself -- where you get back to preparing for the negotiation.

5) Prepare. Even if you have only five minutes, prepare the essentials.  Write down what you know about your and the other party's interests, likely opening offers and bottom lines, BATNAs and valuable concessions. Writing down the essentials forces you to think through your position and whether you are ready to bargain.

Negotiating Tip

 “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision.”  Muhammad Ali


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All that jazz: it's negotiation too

By Marianne Eby

What do the best negotiators and jazz musicians have in common? That question is inspired by a recent article on CNN Opinion: “What the best jazz musicians and business brains have in common.” The argument made, not surprisingly, is that business leaders are more successful when they are open to possibilities rather than stuck on certainties, and when they are empowered to improvise. Good negotiators know how critical this insight is to what they do.

We teach and write about the importance of creativity as a game-changer in negotiations, and the need for improvisation as a skill at the bargaining table.  But here are three deeper parallels between great jazz and great negotiation:

Exchange: In jazz, particularly in rehearsal, the musicians exchange musical ideas, take cues from each other, and find new paths through a melody or score. The more experienced they are, and the better they know their instruments and their partners, the more possibilities there are in the music. In collaborative negotiation, similarly, preparation is essential, but then bargaining is a genuine exchange, where the unexpected can happen, and new ideas develop. Open-minded listening, asking questions, and paying attention to the other party's real interests can lead to creative concessions and counter-offers that bring new value to the bargaining table. In negotiation, as in jazz, "Improvisation grows out of a receptivity to what the situation offers."

Learning and finding new value: In jazz improvisation musicians learn more about the music -- about the melody, their instruments, their partners. Similarly, in a good collaborative negotiation both parties learn more about their own and each other's businesses. A creatively handled conflict between a buyer's terms and a seller's bottom line can bring in new elements of value: a seller might offer a new packaging or delivery method, innovative payment terms, a valuable training program. Buyers might offer sources of new business, coveted tickets to a game. A good negotiator, like a jazz musician, finishes an exchange with an expanded understanding of their own and the other party's value.

The relationship: Another facet of the parallel between jazz musicians and great negotiators is that both understand the core value of the relationship. Jazz musicians treat music as something that is only fully achieved with and in relation to another musician -- they know that "creativity is a collaborative achievement," as Barrett puts it. Similarly, good negotiators know that one of the most valuable products of a collaborative negotiation is often the collaborative relationship itself.

In jazz musicians as in great negotiators, creativity and improvisation are not just skills or tactics, but they represent a whole mindset, or philosophy of negotiating: a collaborative negotiation itself finds or creates new value, just as an interactive, collaborative jazz performance creates new music.  So let's jazz up our negotiating!

Negotiating Tip

A weak partner is a dangerous partner. At minimum, find ways for all parties at the negotiating table to save face. 


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