Negotiation Blog

Film Award for Best Negotiating Practices

By Thomas Wood

The lead up to the Academy Awards always gets me excited about seeing great films. This year Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” were fabulous, and received 10 and 11 nominations respectively. But will they win at the 2012 Academy Awards? I hope it's not deja vu of the 2011 Academy Awards, when brothers’ Ethan and Joel Coen’s “True Grit” received 10 nominations but didn’t win. Well, True Grit definitely won Best Picture for Negotiating Practices among our team of professional negotiators here at Watershed Associates.
True Grit tested the “grit” of every character’s negotiation moxy in the various negotiations that transpired in this movie, and there were many.
 
The story is tried and true:  Teenage girl seeks revenge on her father’s killer, and pairs up with two strong willed lawmen-for-hire to chase down the killer in Indian territory of the 1880s. There’s an opening scene with Dakin Matthews playing a tough and crotchety old businessman and trader, Colonel Stonehill, and Hailee Steinfeld playing the vengeful teen, Mattie Ross. As Mattie prepares to set out on her adventure, she needs resources, and she comes to the trader to negotiate for them.
 
Before he died, Mattie’s father had purchased and paid for two ponies from the trader. Her father had paid for the ponies, but the ponies had not yet been delivered to him and are still in the custody of the trader. Mattie’s father also had his saddle horse boarded at the trader’s stable. Along came a thief who, upon murdering Mattie’s father, stole her father's saddle horse, and left behind the saddle, the two ponies, and the less valuable horse Mattie's father had lent the theif.
 
When Mattie approaches the trader, her astute preparation becomes apparent. The trader is quick witted from years of experience (and a great script), but has to determine whether Mattie has a strong BATNA (plan B), or is bluffing. Mattie uses just enough friendliness and legitimacy to her advantage, while also showing she is prepared and goal oriented (a picture perfect example of Watershed’s mantra: be firm, fair and professional). The trader is caught off guard by this shrewd teenager, and to his disadvantage underestimates her negotiation skill and determination.
 
There are lots of negoiation missteps, mostly on the part of the experienced trader. There are things the trader could have learned about Mattie’s need for resources if he wasn’t caught off guard and had asked better questions. Simply by using sincere curiosity and probing more effectively, the trader could have landed a much better deal. He focuses only on dollars instead, missing low cost/high value trades he probably could have made with the girl. He also makes other common erros in his haste, such as
  • responding to her offer in a way that makes it difficult to explore Mattie's interests,
  • negotiating against himself without waiting for a counteroffer when faced with Mattie’s various BATNAs/bluffs, and
  • declaring multiple times that this is his final offer.
And yet, the trader held all the cards from the start. At the opening of the negotiation, Mattie has nothing and the trader has everything – the ponies, the payment, the saddle, the less valuable horse, and the expertise. Mattie doesn’t beg or play the victim who needs charity. She uses many Best Negotiating Practices, among them
  • an assertive but defensible opening offer,
  • legitimacy,
  • persuasive analogies,
  • a strong BATNA, and
  • a tapered concession pattern.

Mattie has almost no power in this negotiation, but she leverages something much more potent – her skill as a negotiator – her true grit.

And that’s only one of many negotiating scenes in the Oscar nominated movie from 2010.
 
See True Grit again or for the first time, and test your “grit” as a negotiator by spotting all the missteps and Best Negotiating Practices interlaced in this great film.

 

Negotiating Tip

Nodding and tilting your head at regular intervals encourages people to expand on their comments while signaling that you are interested and involved.


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Negotiation Blog

Politicians' Negotiations -- What Can We Learn?

By Thomas Wood

Whatever the nature of our negotiations (commercial, legal, regulatory, internal, etc) we can learn from the ups and downs of some of the most prominent public negotiations. With the Euro in serious trouble and economies worldwide shaken, government negotiations over economic strategies are around the clock and very public. The US negotiations over federal budgets, taxes and spending are a prime example.

With several US significant tax and spending provisions set to kick in (or lapse) in December and January, official Washington will be furiously bargaining at year’s end. And the stakes couldn’t be higher: the fate of the US national economy, the credit rating of the U.S. government, and the confidence of the American people in their elected representatives’ ability to tackle big problems.

In last summer’s negotiations, President Obama and the Congress' House Speaker John Boehner came close to striking a “grand bargain” on long-term debt reduction. It combined restrictions on the growth of entitlement programs (which are trades dear to the Democrat party) with increased taxes on the wealthy (which is anathema to the Republican party). But at the last minute the deal fell apart. Examining elements of this failed negotiation through the prism of Best Negotiating Practices may well provide insight into what could happen at the end of this year, as well as provide guidance for our daily bargaining.

The 2011 budget talks were prompted by a deadline—namely, the need to raise the US government’s debt ceiling so it could borrow more money to pay its bills. Congressional Republicans used this deadline to try to force concessions: they refused to increase the government’s borrowing authority without obtaining agreement by the Administration to substantial budget cuts. While absolute deadlines can be helpful in focusing energy and avoiding unnecessary delay, skilled negotiators can also use arbitrary deadlines as tactic to gain advantage.

The Republicans took a position opposed to any tax increases.  The President’s position was that he would not accept the level of cuts in entitlement programs sought by the Republicans without an increase in taxes on the wealthy. For both sides, the interest was to achieve debt reduction while maintaining the support of each party’s political base. Negotiators sought a solution—as good negotiators should—that served the two parties’ interests, even if it seemed to violate their positions (raising taxes by closing loopholes rather than raising rates, for example).

When the deal collapsed, Democrats charged that Boehner had lacked sufficient authority to bargain, and had been overruled by his Republican colleagues in the House. Negotiators should always have sufficient authority to strike a deal, but not absolute authority: carrying limited authority allows them to postpone or deflect unwelcome proposals. In the end, both sides decided that no deal was better than what they viewed as a bad one. They could both revert to the same, ready-made Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA): elections, in which each side might achieve at the polling place what it couldn’t at the bargaining table.

While political negotiators in each country and all governments have special advantages and restrictions, everyone involved in negotiation can benefit from studying their successes and failures. It will be interesting to see if the US federal budget negotiators busy later this year are among those who have learned anything.

Negotiating Tip

Prepare. Identify Most Desirable Outcomes, Goals, Least Acceptable Agreements, and Best Alternatives.


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Negotiation Blog

How Negotiators Listen to Improve Workplace Dynamics

By Leslie Mulligan

By the time you are 90, my dad tells me, you are finally ready to listen, even if your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. But that’s ok, because listening isn’t about hearing, it‘s about understanding. Negotiating in the workplace, however, requires us to have this skill well before we retire. The good news – better listening can be learned.

Recently, my 90-year old father asked me to buy Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for my 19 year-old nephew on his birthday. Now, as gifts go, my nephew was probably not overly excited, but I understand that my dad wanted to convey some important life lessons to his millennial grandson. I was happy to oblige, because that book holds pearls of wisdom that I often emphasize when I teach our Watershed negotiation curriculum, not the least of which is how well we listen to each other to understand, versus simply listening to respond.

Listening is a critical skill for negotiating at work for 2 reasons: Comprehension and Concession.

#1.  Listening = Comprehension

If you don’t know why your colleague wants what they want, you can’t effectively solve the problem. Instead, you find yourself in a time consuming and dysfunctional trail of mutual positioning. Listening opens the door to real understanding of your colleagues’ needs.

Real understanding does not mean sympathy (feeling sorry for someone) or giving in because of some sympathy you may feel. Real understanding results from what Covey calls “empathic listening” -- listening that “gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”  Yet this is not how most of us listen!

Example: For the last few weeks, one of the two supervisors you manage has been arriving 5 to 10 minutes late to your weekly morning meeting with them and their direct reports. You prepare to talk to him armed with reasons why this is unacceptable (disruptive, team morale, productivity). The conversation is not likely to go well because you are preparing to position yourself - not to understand.

If you instead engage in empathic listening – state the problem and how it feels to you, and ask what’s going on -- you might discover that this supervisor has purchased his first house further out from work, and has been struggling to figure out an effective commuting pattern. Now you can discuss solutions that consider the problem from both points of view:

  • Can the meeting be moved to mid-morning?
  • Can we let the team know what the problem is and expect it to resolve itself in a few weeks?
  • Does anyone else at the company commute from the same area that may have some ideas?
  • How about shifting his hours to start earlier one day a week when the meeting is held?
  • Or maybe if traffic is a problem for anyone on the team, can they call into the meeting, rather than attend in person?

 

#2.    Listening = Concession

One of the greatest needs people have is to be heard. Sometimes no movement can happen until people feel heard. Authentic listening will always be perceived as goodwill – a concession, which often results in a concession back to you, a get to your give. At a minimum, your colleague will show some form of appreciation. In addition, without listening, we can easily give away unnecessary concessions, or reject something that ultimately benefits us.

Example: Your boss asks you to finish a project 1 month earlier than planned. You are ready to argue that this is not fair to you and your team after all the work and successes you’ve achieved.  If you instead listen to understand rather than jump to respond, you would discover that finishing early means that your project will be on the upcoming quarterly Senior Management Staff Meeting agenda, giving the best chance for you to gain the needed headcount and budget increases the project deserves. And the exposure to your leadership role will help your career. Yet only minutes ago, you were ready to argue against your boss’s request.

Do you consider yourself a “good listener”? Most of us are told at some point (in our personal and professional lives) that we are not listening!  Empathic listening is easier said than done – but it is a “learned skill”.  You can teach an old dog new tricks.
 

Use these tips to improve your negotiations with more empathic listening:


Don’t get bored; get curious - sincerely curious
Ask big open-ended questions like

  • Why, Why Not;
  • What if, How about, What else could we do;
  • What harm would come from;
  • How could we change, avoid, resolve.
  • And always test your assumptions by asking about them.

In addition to asking questions, you can also show your curiosity by encouraging your colleague:

  • Tell me more
  • I am intrigued by your idea
  • My team (or boss) will want to understand that better
  • What other thoughts were considered before coming up with that idea/solution

Remember: People love to talk, and are known to feel so good afterwards if you let them talk, that they give more than they get; but it won’t help if you don’t listen.


Passion for a position does not require an argument in return
Colleagues get passionate about an idea, especially if it is theirs. They become invested in an effort, an outcome, or even just the hope of avoiding a major problem.  And if someone senses resistance, emotions surface and can sabotage agreement or blind you both to a perfectly good solution.  This is especially true in the workplace when one’s professional status is at stake.

Be prepared to manage your own emotions – and to help your colleagues manage theirs. Managing emotions doesn't mean squelching them. Instead, BEFORE you oppose a co-worker’s position, acknowledge – with sincerity --

  • Their conviction or even heartfelt belief;
  • The work they put in already; and
  • Their reputation or stature.

Don’t feel compelled to argue or persuade, or even negotiate, until you have allowed them to speak their piece- and be sure you listen. This may be your opportunity to make listening your only concession!


Make it personal
Even when dealing only with facts and data, getting personal is one of the most valuable ways to ensure you are communicating effectively. Just ask Alan Alda, the renowned TV actor of MASH fame. Alda joined Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism faculty in its Center for Communicating Science to study the challenges scientists face in effective communication. In his new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? he reminds us that speaker and listener are persons. In a June interview with Newsweek on his book tour, Alda reinforced this concept:

If we aren’t concerned with observing or imagining what a person is thinking or feeling when we are trying to communicate with them, then we are leaving them out….. the person doing the speaking needs to pay attention to the audience, whether that’s one person or many.”

Alda notes that scientists who take a more logical, fact based approach to communicating are prizing accuracy over actual understanding. Making the experience personal – empathizing with our listener -- is crucial to ensure that our points will resonate with our audience.  Alda’s book speaks mostly to the scientific community – helping them cross the divide between a scientist’s knowledge and the audience’s understanding of that knowledge.

But the general problem of effective communication is bi-directional of course, and nowhere is that more evident than in our current political landscape, where polarization is becoming the norm. Rob Willer, a social psychologist at Stanford University, has been studying political polarization in the U.S. for the last few years and gave a TED talk on the subject.  In an interview in the Stanford News, he concludes that politicians “must take the time to really listen to one another, to understand one another’s values and to think creatively about why someone with different political and moral commitments from their own should nonetheless come to agree with them. Empathy and respect will be critical if we are going to sew our country back together.”

Politics aside, Willer’s comments effectively sum up how we all can be more successful in any negotiation – a win-win negotiation results when your proposed solution makes it clear that you see the situation or problem from your counterpart’s viewpoint.

Now back to my dad and my nephew – and that well-meaning, if not much loved, birthday gift.  My father and my nephew have different life perspectives and views of the world, but they do listen to each other – for the most part. Having spent decades with my dad, I realize that he is not always the best listener himself. But I know he is genuinely curious about his grandson’s views. That is always the best place to start when you need to negotiate solutions, across conference tables or kitchen tables.  And full disclaimer, I did buy a cool pair of sports headphones for my nephew, on my dad’s behalf – to make it a bit more personal!

Negotiating Tip

Three easy ways to build trust: Listen as an ally, show sincere appreciation for your counterpart’s efforts, and make (but link) concessions.


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