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Negotiation Blog - difficult conversations
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.
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-owrkers 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.
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.