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

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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Negotiation Blog

Negotiate #LikeAGirl, and don’t get Manterrupted!

By Marianne Eby

Two female power stories caught my woman negotiator’s eye this last month: The #LikeAGirl campaign gone viral after the US NFL's Super Bowl XLVIV, and Jessica Bennett’s Time Magazine article How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’. It's a one-two punch and we negotiators can learn a lot from both.

It’s difficult NOT to jump on the bandwagon of a popular Twitter hashtag when it really speaks to you. I watch the Super Bowl every year, and always find new insights, although not about football. See my 2014 blog on Super Bowl XLVIII Cheerios commercial of a young daughter’s negotiation with her dad that put most negotiators to shame. Academics and practitioners alike know children are the best negotiators – ask for what they want, persistent questioners, super curious, unafraid of “No”, and armed with an infinite supply of creative solutions.

2015’s Super Bowl inspired the "girl" negotiator in me with Always #LikeAGirl campaign, turning on its head the centuries old negative connotation that goes with doing anything “like a girl.” (i.e., you throw like a girl...and a hundred others.)

Some of my favorite 2015 hashtags trending for #LikeAGirl

Hunt Taliban from the Air #LikeAGirl

From General Electric: We can't solve the world's problems with only half the world's brain. Become an engineer.  #LikeAGirl 

International Space Station: Go to space #LikeAGirl! Two women are living and working aboard our @Space_Station

Neuroscientist and Gene Therapist  Jodi Mcbride: Perform neurosurgery #LikeAGirl

and of course

Watershed’s Negotiate #LikeAGirl

At Watershed, we train and coach amazing women negotiators at corporations around the world. We remind them that there are instincts and skills many women naturally possess that are the foundation for masterful negotiating – skills that we all (men and women) need to achieve Win-Win in our negotiations. We remind them to Negotiate #LikeAGirl:

  • Empathy – It’s not unusual in any ladies' hangout to hear the comment – “He totally lacks the empathy gene!” It’s not that males aren’t empathetic, but many have to work at it more. It doesn’t take much effort for most women, on the other hand, to step into the other side’s shoes. Negotiators need empathy, because until you can truly grasp what the other side needs and why they need it, you can’t make proposals that address those needs and achieve real value for both parties.
  • Intuition – How often have you heard someone say – trust your woman’s intuition? Everybody -- men and women -- has intuition – gut feelings – but women tend to have brain connections that assemble and decode diverse inputs more easily than men, and can therefore more easily capture unspoken messages. This special wiring enables us to recognize hidden fears and intents that may sabotage agreement if they aren’t dealt with.
  • Cooperation – Some researches claim that the female brain is wired for cooperation, thanks to ample amounts of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Females have more oxytocin, so if the researchers are right, women negotiators may be more likely to engage in the kind of collaboration that results in mutually beneficial agreements.
  • Active listening  – The research is not clear that men don’t listen well, but it is clear that women certainly perceive men don’t listen well. Deborah Tannen's early research in this area is renowned. Regardless whether men and women actually listen better or worse than the other, all negotiators must master the power of listening.

Personal Story
About 10 years into my legal career, I interviewed for my dream job outside of law, and knew immediately after the interview that I didn’t get the job because I added not one stimulating insight to the conversation. I had some great ideas, but just couldn’t get them in without interrupting the very talkative Vice President who interviewed me. I was shocked when I got offered the job the next day. Months later while on the job, the EVP was singing my praises to the VP, and I overheard that VP tell his boss – “I was so impressed with our conversation when she interviewed that I knew she was perfect for the job!”

I had clearly honed listening to a whole new level. But regardless of my unfortunate (or fortunate) excessive listening, active listening is a skill that can and should be developed by everyone. For better or worse, women negotiators may have the upper hand if like me, they can make people feel heard (a concession received in itself) just by listening.

To use and not be used by these natural female tendencies, women negotiators should take heed:

  • Watch out Empathizers! Don’t let empathy turn to sympathy and drive you to give away free gifts or change your proposal to be less advantageous to you!
  • Watch out Intuiters! Your intuition is just a clue and not a conclusion, so Probe with sincerity to uncover hidden motivations.
  • Watch out Listeners! Listening is helpful only if you take what you heard and respond to it with relevant ideas.
  • Watch out Cooperators! Cooperating can easily turn into accommodation or compromise when a collaborative strategy will provide greater benefit for all parties.

Each gender has it’s inherent strengths and often those strengths can lead to weaknesses, like my allowing that VP to talk my entire interview. Or as Jessica Bennett, award winning writer, editor and producer illustrates -- allowing ourselves and our female colleagues to be "manterrupted” or have our ideas “bro-propriated.” We’ve all been interrupted at meetings and had others take credit for the ideas we pose – men and women alike – but ask your mothers, sisters, female bosses, wives and girl friends if they think it happens a lot more to them than the men in your life think it happens to them.

Bennett refers to the recent New York Times op-ed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant:

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation of his fine idea.”

Bennett and her friends call this Manterrupting. Bennett proposes some great strategies, such as a imposing a general rule of no interruptions at meetings. She also proposes more targeted advice:

  • Bystanders nudging the male (or female) interrupter;
  • Women “avoid the baby voice and speak authoritatively” -- don’t hedge your ideas with “this may not work, but….”; and
  • Women should practice assertive body language (see Amy Cudy’s research on body language and how it can change other people’s perceptions and your own psyche).

Each gender has strengths and weaknesses. But Negotiating is not male or female – it’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas, and not interrupting each other. So to all women and men negotiators, I say Negotiate #LikeAGirl! 

Negotiating Tip

Decide early as you prepare for an important negotiation, does the situation call for you to compete, collaborate, compromise, avoid or accommodate. All strategies have a time & place.

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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

Ask "why" to understand interests. Ask your counterpart’s advice on how to achieve shared goals. Be sincerely curious.

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