Negotiation Blog

Negotiating Strategies Should Fit Your Situation

By Thomas Wood

The best negotiating style or strategy depends on the context, so master negotiators learn to read a situation and use appropriate methods to reach their goal. An assessment of the chosen negotiation strategies of four recent U.S. presidents demonstrates the power of understanding your situation and adjusting your style and strategy to ensure success.

The president of the United States is commander-in-chief, and as such he is also “negotiator-in-chief.” When forging a treaty with a foreign power or brokering a deal with the opposition party in Congress, he’s making strategic decisions about his approach to negotiating that we can learn from.

President Obama initially used a collaborative approach in pursuit of major initiatives like health care reform and debt reduction, but the tactic faltered because the opposition party wouldn't collaborate. After a series of budget crises in 2010-11—during which many supporters felt he gave up too much—he switched to a competitive approach on issues like employment and tax policy. While the president remains personally popular, poll ratings of his performance in office have probably suffered from his earlier, failed collaborative strategy. Obama’s reelection bid this fall will be the ultimate indicator of whether his negotiating styles have produced results acceptable to the American people.

George W. Bush (2001-2009) came into office with a competitive approach. In his first term—and especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11—he developed both domestic and international policy without seeking much input from his counterparts. The America people endorsed Bush’s competitive approach in foreign affairs and national security policy by reelecting him in 2004. Significant crises of his second term like Hurricane Katrina and the financial panic of 2008—as well as the intractability of long-term problems like illegal immigration—highlighted the need for collaboration, such that by the end of his presidency Bush was working more with his counterparts in developing policy.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) understood that even within the same, prolonged negotiation different strategies are often called for at different times. When he came to office the United States was in the 4th decade of its global competition with Soviet Union known as the Cold War. In his first term, he took a competitive approach by initiating a massive military build-up. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, he took a more collaborative tack, forging ties with conservative Democrats to push through Congress big tax and spending cuts. He worked collaboratively with his counterparts to pass substantial tax code reform in his second term. Also in his second term, Reagan started to engage the USSR in a collaborative policy, capitalizing on the ascendancy of reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan’s perception of the need to take a hard line with the USSR in his first term, then switch to a collaborative approach in his second demonstrates his skill as a negotiator. Voters showed their support for Reagan’s negotiation style by giving him a landslide reelection victory; the American public continues to hold him in high regard, as exemplified in a 2011 Gallup Poll in which he was judged the greatest US president.

Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) is often seen as having employed an avoidance approach, exemplified by what was viewed as an overly passive response to the Iranian hostage crisis, and by the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This perceived strategy cost him public support, denying him a second term. Out of office, he seemed to learn that collaboration was critical, and in his post-presidential years preached the importance of talking with our enemies as he successfully advocated for human rights during conflicts in Haiti, Bosnia, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Carter became so adept at collaboration that he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Though issues in your negotiation may not rise to presidential levels of complexity and import, fitting the strategy to the situation is still crucial for success.

Negotiating Tip

Understand, access and address real interests and concerns – that is focus on WHY they want what they want, NOT on demands or positions. 

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Negotiation Blog

Connect with Your Negotiating Counterpart

By Marianne Eby

You are about to begin a difficult project at work in conjunction with your co-worker, and he asks, "Want to grab a cup of coffee before we get started?" You may not want coffee, you may be busy, you may be dreading working with this person, or you may think chit chat is a waste of time.  But if you are going to successfully complete this project, you would be wise to respond with a resounding "Yes!" You have just received an "emotional bid" that holds the key to you getting more of what you want in the many negotiations that will unfold during this project.

As John Gottman described a decade ago in his book, The Relationship Cure, an emotional bid is a question, gesture, or expression that implies, “I want to connect with you.”  The label "Emotional bids" may be 21st century nomenclature, but the idea is as old as the first negotiation between cave men setting out on a hunt who sharpen sticks together, and will later have to negotiate who gets the best meat of the kill.

Emotional bids are part of all developing relationships, including those between co-workers and negotiating counterparts. If your polite answer to such a bid is "sorry I don't drink coffee" or "thanks but I have too much work right now," you are missing an critical opportunity to connect in a way that supports your inevitable ask for something you want.

Many of us fail to recognize or extend emotional bids. As a good negotiator, you already know that relationships are critical in your negotiations -- with customers you can't afford to lose, suppliers you need, and partners you want. The relationship you develop with the other party, whether positive or negative, impacts every aspect of your negotiation. Yet we spend more time alone completing tasks, and avoiding interaction, only to lament, "We don't have a trusting relationship!"

Recognize emotional bids for what they are -- a prime opportunity to build affiliations, find common ground or interests, and understand each other outside the conflict zone. 

Be on the lookout for "emotional bids" and use them yourself.  An "emotional bid" can be an interesting "tweet" or funny story, sharing an industry related article, a recommendation for a good book or restaurant, and a million other ways to connect.

Remember, institutions don't negotiate. People do. And people give the best deals to people they connect with -- people they like. 

Negotiating Tip

When they say no, your only response is "why". No is an opportunity to explore options. No is an opportunity to create value.

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Negotiation Blog

Why did the negotiator cross the road?

By Marianne Eby

Negotiations are serious business, which is why it is important to understand, and build trust with, the other party. Great negotiators know that no matter how serious the interaction, laughter is often one of the quickest paths to trust; it can relieve tension, create a bond, improve everyone's moods, and foster the creativity you want for mutually beneficial agreements to emerge.

Researchers in many fields, from medicine to psychology to communications, are increasingly interested in the social power of humor and the physical and emotional benefits of laughter. Public speakers are trained to open presentations with jokes or funny anecdotes. Political candidates are now expected to demonstrate their sense of humor on the talk show circuit to improve their likeability. In 2010 Comedian John Stewart was voted the "most trusted man in America." His social power derives from the fact that he is knowledgeable and funny, which makes him seem more trustworthy.  

A sense of humor is useful during all phases of negotiation as well -- to signal confidence or shift power, to change the environment, to soften bad news, to avoid answering a question, to respond to a ridiculous offer, or to save face.

Telling a funny story or acceptable joke can also help you gauge whether the other party is on the same page with you. If the other side is not laughing, or even engaging in a joking conversation, pay attention: they are not where you hope they are. Not laughing in response to a humorous gesture is a sign of discomfort or disconnection.

So prepare with ice-breakers -- anecdotes or jokes that get a group to laugh before you begin bargaining.

Try these tips for opening an interaction with humor:

Tell a story on yourself: People love to laugh at absurd but real events. Carol Burnett famously said "comedy is tragedy plus time." A story you tell about yourself makes you more human.

Don't take yourself too seriously. Keep the humor light, and your expectations for laughter down. Nothing kills an attempt to develop rapport more than someone who can't laugh at him or herself. Mildly self-deprecating jokes imply trust.

Collect a few jokes that work for you. They're easy to find or to collect. Good storytellers and comedians prepare material in advance, to avoid hitting the wrong note, and to be ready to hit the right one.

What to avoid:

  • Stories and jokes about race, culture, gender, religion, politics, or hometowns
  • Offensive material
  • Sarcasm
  • Targeting something sensitive about them you discovered by being empathetic (don't overuse empathy!)
  • Stories or jokes that require long, complex setups, or special insider knowledge
  • Telling a joke if you are not good at it
  • Jokes that rely on an exact understanding of your language

Sometimes puns (ambiguous play on words with multiple meanings) can be fun – just make sure your humor is understood. Let’s say you’re in a tense negotiation and everyone is frustrated. You might say:

“Does any one feel the way I do? Trying to figure out a solution that satisfies us all is like getting ready for a root canal – it’s unnerving!”

Keep these guidelines in mind for successful humorous stories and jokes:

  • Make them modest, not ambitious
  • Keep them short -- avoid a long setup!
  • Try to be topical -- find a story or joke that's relevant to the negotiation at hand, a recent press story, your travel, etc.
  • Be yourself!

Be real. Leverage your own style and personality. Be willing to laugh. See how it changes your negotiation results!

Negotiating Tip

"In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony."  Theodore E. Steinway

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