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

Summarize early and often.


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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

Commitment is what each side agreed that it will do or not do. Commitments should be Practical, Durable, Understood by all, & Verifiable.


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3 Common Mistakes in Negotiations with Neighbors

By Thomas Wood

Are you “on the fence” about your neighbors? I train seasoned business professionals to negotiate in a wide range of industries and professions, and it never fails that I get asked to help with someone’s latest negotiation problem --  not with a key customer or difficult supplier -- but with a neighbor. Everyone has a story to tell! Learn from the mistakes even I succumbed to in neighbor negotiations.


You don’t get to choose your neighbors, and you don’t have to like your neighbors. But unless you are a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg and can purchase your neighbors' properties in order to protect your own privacy and view, you will have to deal with your neighbors. Here's my tale of hard lessons learned.

My wife and I bought a house next door to a sophisticated widow of considerable wealth - we called her "Lady H." Lady H had previously owned our adjoining lot, with her house being grand and ours being, well, quaint - a more modest guest-house. Lady H lived alone in her old age and wealth, and barely recognized the existence of my family despite our attempts to win her over with fresh picked blue berries and smiles across the lawn.

Years earlier when Lady H owned both parcels, she had a fence placed near our joint property lines but located squarely on my parcel – a chain link fence that was now in disrepair and unsightly. My wife and I were ready to upgrade our property, and assumed that Lady H would appreciate the investment, as it would add to the value of her property as well. We decided to tackle the thing most unbefitting to our properties – the rusted chain link fence on our parcel.

As an expert negotiator who coaches others, I knew exactly what to do – prepare my options and strategies before negotiating a deal with Lady H. We did our research and formed our strategy, and then dropped by to see Lady H. I told her we were taking the old chain link fence down, and handed her a brochure that showed fences with the same open air view as her chain link fence, but added sophistication befitting her estate. While my wife and I were ok with all the options, I didn’t share that with her, as I wanted to see what Lady H wanted first. I had planned to then reluctantly accept her fence preference in exchange for several other things we wanted, like for her to have a dead tree on her property taken down that posed a threat to our safety.

I was ready to discuss options and begin some give and take, but she cut the conversation short. Pointing to the most expensive option, a decorative iron fence, Lady H nicely said, “I like this one. Do what you need to do,” and thanked me for coming by. I was surprised, but pleased at least with the efficiency of our “negotiation."

When our new and very expensive iron fence was installed, I was thrilled. We could see each other’s lovely gardens but without having to look through the eye sore of that rusted chain link fence. My satisfaction was short lived.

A week later, Lady H installed a taller, builder-grade, wood privacy fence on her property, abutting and completely overshadowing the new iron fence. What had I done wrong? Everything, pretty much!

First, know your neighbor's true interests.
I didn't bother to learn Lady H's interests - why she wants what she wants. It turned out that Lady H regretted having sold the adjoining property because she now had a young noisy family that liked to spend time laughing and playing outside - ours. Lady H had grown older since the days when she had installed that chain link fence, and her interests had changed; she now wanted quiet and privacy.

Second, understand who you are dealing with.
Lady H could have simply proposed a privacy fence, and not had to spend her own money to get the privacy she wanted. Why didn’t she? Easy to see why in retrospect:

  • Lady H didn’t share her interest with us because we had no relationship (see the 2nd article in this series coming soon), and I didn’t bother to ask her what mattered to her. My assumptions about what mattered to Lady H proved entirely wrong.
     
  • I underestimated Lady H’s ego need to control her surroundings. I opened with our decision to take the chain link fence down, when I could have just as easily met her outside and, while not invading her side of the fence, showed her that time had taken its toll on that fence and simply asked if she'd like to see it in better shape again. I could have begun a conversation rather than take control. My ego bruising led Lady H to take revenge rather than discuss a solution.
     
  • And last, Lady H’s plan B (BATNA) was very strong (and I didn't bother to think she had one since the fence was on our property); she had resources to out maneuver us. From her side Lady H would now see the nice side of her privacy fence. And she didn't really care that from our side we saw our investment erode, with the ugly side of her privacy fence pressed against our new iron fence.

Third, to negotiate a solution requires collaboration.
I did not trade value to reach a mutually beneficial solution, which is how you capture value in collaborative negotiations. When the other party says “Yes” right away, you can be sure that either you did a great job of convincing them, or like in my situation, you are being outmaneuvered. Maybe you unwittingly offered them more than they ever thought they could get, so they jump at your offer, or maybe like Lady H, they have a strong plan B that they are ready and willing to implement. A quick and easy win in negotiations usually turns out not to be a win at all.

With neighbors and in business, knowing the other party's ego needs, interests and BATNAs, engaging in a collaborative conversation to solve your interests and theirs by trading for value – determines whether you actually get what you want. Robert Frost's famous line - Good Fences Make Good Neighbors -- perhaps should have been Good Negotiators Make Good Neighbors.

Negotiating Tip

Do you have a clean, funny story or joke? Tell it in a negotiation. Laughter relaxes people. Relaxed people are less confrontational and say yes.


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Oprah, Weight Watchers and Win-Win Negotiations

By Leslie Mulligan

No stranger to success in negotiations, Oprah Winfrey has once again made both parties a winner. She and Weight Watchers have joined forces to help the rest of us achieve health and happiness. Their arrangement is based on one of the most fundamental negotiation principals: when the parties' interests are aligned, more value can be created.

Oprah made a major investment in Weight Watchers, announcing a $43 million investment, 10% of the company, on Oct 19th – and both Weight Watchers and Winfrey seem to be winning ever since. Their Interests clearly overlapped; “there is tremendous alignment between Oprah’s intention and our mission”, said Jim Chambers, Weight Watchers CEO.

Oprah is no stranger to weight loss programs any more than she is to success, and has both achieved goals and endured setbacks in this area for decades. So why endorse Weight Watchers? 

Oprah went on the Weight Watchers program earlier in the summer and lost 15 pounds, as she proudly announced on the Ellen show. Her personal experience gave her confidence that the Weight Watchers program could work. But Oprah would not be swayed by just her own weight loss, as she is a shrewd investor and perhaps more importantly, a renowned philanthropist who cares about bettering the world.

And as it turned out, Weight Watchers was intent upon expanding its brand from a weight loss company to one that focuses on “helping people lead a healthier, happier life”, said their CEO, Jim Chambers recently. With that brand shift, Oprah got on board: their interests were now even more powerfully aligned. In a Linked In Pulse that she penned recently, Oprah talked about her philosophy on life, how it matters what we believe.  She said “Our intentions become thoughts … our thoughts become beliefs … our beliefs become words and actions”. Oprah has put her beliefs and dollars into this deal.

When both sides at the negotiation table identify their Interests early in the discussion, real value can be created. While Oprah may have lost some weight, the WTW stock price doubled since her investment.

Time will tell whether this investment pays off – Oprah is committed for at least 5 years, as she cannot sell her shares until that time under the terms of this agreement. But she has always taken the long view, hosting the Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, one of the longest day-time talk shows in history, even after she had earned more than $1 billion. Weight Watchers not only received a committed investor, but as part of its effort to stay relevant in a crowded market of weight loss fads, it got a boost in brand recognition by joining with the Queen of Media herself.

Of course, the holiday season presents another obstacle, at least for any personal weight loss goals. But we know the Oprah-Weight Watchers deal will prevail even through the holidays, as it was built on strongly aligned interests – the road to Win-Win!

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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Shifting Power in Negotiations: Taylor Swift vs. Spotify

By Leslie Mulligan

Taylor Swift made a big splash this week when she removed her album, 1989, from Spotify, one of the world’s largest digital music companies – calling Spotify a “grand experiment” that was under-valuing the beloved music created by her and many other artists. Her attempt to gain leverage in negotiations is a strategic move, but will it work?

Taylor Swift took a stand by pulling her music catalogue away from Spotify, a growing digital music service that provides a two-tiered model to “lure listeners away from piracy.” Her stand calls attention to a growing power imbalance:  amazingly, Spotify only launched in 2008, but now has over 50M users worldwide. Spotify’s growth, mirroring the rest of the digital music industry, has been astronomical, but many musicians feel they are now being unfairly compensated in the new “streaming” era.

So far, Swift’s “negotiation” with Spotify has played out more in the public domain than in the well-heeled hallways of NYC, Spotify’s US HQ. Swift is adeptly following many of the principles that expert negotiators advocate when confronted with an imbalance of power – what to do when power has shifted out of your favor:

Have a strong BATNA and be ready to execute it –Taylor Swift is in the enviable position of having pretty deep pockets herself, and she will still make serious money on 1989 and the rest of her music as she has myriad other outlets for the sale of her music, but firing the first salvo like this certainly got the attention of the digital streaming music industry. Rolling Stone magazine quotes Swift’s record label President, Scott Borchetta, as describing this move as a “big fist in the air”.

Paint a picture of what will happen if a “deal” falls through – When Swift followed her first move by then yanking her entire musical catalogue, the vision of the future without Taylor Swift was crystal clear, and not a pretty picture for Spotify. Can Spotify hold off other artists who may feel the same way?

Create coalitions:  Taylor Swift is the darling of Pop music, and the biggest name to call out Spotify, but she is only one in a growing group of well-known but disgruntled artists:  Jason Aldean of the Country music fame has also pulled his most recent album, Old Boots, New Dirt. But it is not just the Pop/Country worlds that are vocal:  the Black Keys and Radiohead of the Rock world have also expressed concern, if not fear, of the changing landscape. David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads of rock infamy, criticized streaming services just last year. Even informal alliances, if not formal coalitions, can impact the balance of power in your favor.

Attack the source of their power – Spotify’s success has come from the rapid growth in its user base. But if the fans are unhappy with the musical selection, or even just concerned that their favorite artists are unhappy, who knows what may come next – a fan revolt?  Well, Spotify is already trying to shift the balance of power back, with their recent blog posted Nov 11th, making sure that the fans know that we are the center of the Spotify universe, but not to the detriment of their artists.

Reveal some of your interests -Using the media mouthpiece, Borchetta hinted at what Swift really wants – more control. Borchetta criticized Spotify for its lack of flexibility: "They take [the music], and they say, 'We're going to put it everywhere we want to put it, and we really don't care about what you want to do. Give us everything that you have and we're going to do what we want with it.' And that doesn’t work for us. . . . They just need to be a better partner.” It’s not unusual for a negotiator to demonstrate their plan B with a left punch while reaching out their right hand for a future deal.

Most of us do not have the resources or fame of Taylor Swift, but we can address power shifts in our own negotiations by following these tried and true principles. These strategies should level the playing field if not improve your position outright. But taking these steps may not mean success – the pundits at Harvard assert that Taylor Swift’s moves are an anomaly and she may be the proverbial lone wolf. Only time will tell how the power shakes out, but hopefully fans around the world will still enjoy the music.

 

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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Like the Energizer Bunny, Washington’s debt ceiling negotiations keep on giving

By Thomas Wood

We tried to restrain ourselves from commenting in our negotiation workshops these last two months on the drama going on near our Washington, DC offices as the US President and Congress negotiated the US debt ceiling, with the President’s signature healthcare legislation – Obamacare – as the bargaining chip. Careful to stay neutral, but always alert to the strategy angles, we now have a few things to say, and they are all seeped in the fundamentals of negotiating. This Energizer Bunny just keeps on giving!

Negotiations to reopen the shuttered federal government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling were notable for one side’s insistence that it wasn’t negotiating at all. But despite the claims of President Obama and other Democratic leaders that they wouldn’t bargain over what they described as the basic functions of government, in the end they worked out a deal with their Republican adversaries. Most of us just don’t mean it when we say we won’t negotiate.

What other negotiating lessons can we learn from Washington’s latest fiscal crisis? At least five fundamentals.

1. The first is that preparation takes time. Although the partial shutdown of the federal government caught many Americans by surprise, defunding the government as a strategy for derailing health care reform was a plan in the making by an important faction of the Republican Party. President Obama, for his part, apparently decided in 2011—in the midst of another debt-ceiling confrontation—that he would never again negotiate over whether Washington should have enough borrowing authority to pay its bills.  As it generally does, this early planning affected the outcome of the negotiations.

2. Another prominent feature is the power of deadlines. Deadlines often figure in negotiation—sometimes proposed to spur action in a cooperative way, sometimes wielded as a weapon by one side to intimidate the other.

Government funding was due to expire October 1 and the Treasury’s borrowing limit (the “debt ceiling”) would be reached on October 17. There was a difference between the two, however: the first was acknowledged by both parties to be justified and absolute, since it was the statutory end of the government’s fiscal year. The second was a less concrete estimate by the Treasury. Some Republicans probed this second deadline, suspecting it was arbitrary and changeable. Though the GOP was criticized for questioning the precision of the debt ceiling deadline because the consequences of default were so severe—regardless of exactly when it was triggered—in less drastic situations such probing of deadlines is entirely appropriate.

3. Third, our approaches can evolve as the negotiations evolve. Like most political confrontations, the strategy when this negotiation began was competitive. Each side felt it had right on its side and demanded the other yield.  The Republicans, however, almost immediately shifted to what they presented as a compromise strategy, inviting the President and other Democrats to talk out their differences. But Democrats felt secure enough in their position—and viewed the GOP proposals as so unreasonable—that they didn’t feel pressured to go along.  This is not usually a practical strategy for ongoing relationships such as the President and Congress must maintain, but such is the degree of political polarization in Washington today.  Eventually, to break the weeks long deadlock, Democrats joined in the compromise strategy, which seeks to give something to each side.

4. Fourth, positions are merely one way to satisfy interests. That’s why positions move in negotiations. The general wisdom is that the Republicans got much less than the President out of this compromise settlement, but some commentators think that viewpoint is confusing positions with interests. In fact, Republican positions changed over the course of the negotiation: beginning with a demand to defund or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), then moving to other tax and spending issues, and eventually to policies disconnected from the budget.

But Republican interests remained the same throughout: a smaller, less intrusive federal government funded by lower taxes.  Viewed that way, even though health care reform was only slightly modified, a central GPO intereses was served by maintaining existing spending restraints in the temporary budget adopted as part of the deal.

5. And last, without a strong Plan B or BATNA, there is little likelihood of a big win. One reason President Obama could at least in the beginning maintain that he was not negotiating, and in the end get more of what he wanted, is that the other side began the process without apparently developing a strategic Negotiation Envelope. This is a planning tool that maps out wants (Most Desired Outcome), reasonable expectations (Goals), fallbacks (Least Acceptable Agreements) and “Plan B” (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement—BATNA). The most aggressive GOP leaders of the confrontation seemed to have identified a lot of Most Desired Outcomes, but not one Least Acceptable Agreement. And there was no viable BATNA, since the public would not put up indefinitely with a closed government or with the economic chaos caused by a national default.

Perhaps that’s the principle negotiating lesson of the federal fiscal crisis of 2013: set a reasonable goal and chart a path to get there.  Whatever the merits of the Republicans’ politics and policies, their negotiating strategy may need a recalculation.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating, give good news in small chunks. Give bad news all at once.


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Top 5 Negotiation Lessons from Summer Vacation

By Marianne Eby

Like me, many of you are returning from summer vacation. You relaxed, explored, and played. But you didn’t sharpen your negotiation saw. Or did you? Without realizing, you likely practiced your negotiation skills, and upped our negotiation quotient.  Here’s my Top 5 negotiation lessons from summer vacation:

  1. Have confidence in the process. 
    Almost two thirds of Americans work during summer vacation, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. .  We know we have to work, at least some, while we’re gone.  And yet, we go, with confidence in the value of vacation -- expecting we will come back refreshed for a positive impact on our lives. We should go into negotiations the same -- confident that if we follow a disciplined process, we will achieve predictable and repeatable results that create value for both parties. 
     
  2. Be creative. 
    Vacation presented us opportunities to play outside the sandbox. In a new place our personality wasn’t known, so we experimented with our approach or style to get the results we wanted. We experienced new things: different foods, new ways of taking photos, other cultures. Being creative with our choices allowed us to discover new things. Being creative in a negotiation allows us to find new solutions to difficult issues.
     
  3. Adjust your style and build rapport.
    People we had to deal with on vacation were unfamiliar -- hotel desk clerks, beach patrol, waiters, tour guides, friends of friends. Naturally we wanted a pleasant experience, so we explored common areas of interest to build rapport. And because so much was new and different on vacation, we asked lots of questions. Because we were sincerely curious, we listened well to the answers. Some of these people even made it into our virtual rolodex. Think of your negotiation counterpart similarly. Adjusting your style to the situation or person, and making a personal connection, builds trust. And as we all know, building trust allows both parties to share their true interests, and find hidden value in negotiations.
     
  4. Plan, Propose options, and develop alternatives.
    Most of us planned our vacations more thoroughly than we plan most negotiations – hotel reservations, addresses to enter into our GPS, must-go concert tickets. We knew the budget we wanted to keep and the money and time limits we could not exceed. When different members of our family were unhappy with the offering, we proposed options. We suggested a willingness to hike the long trail today if everyone would get up early for kayaking tomorrow. Indeed, one of the best negotiation practices is to offer options. People stay involved when they have to respond to options.  And on vacation we thought of backup plans if rain stole a beach day. Our vacation /learning-center-item/batna.htmlBATNA! Without knowing it, we practiced our negotiations skills on vacation!
     
  5. Take breaks.
    We took breaks to relax – mini-vacations within a vacation. Relaxing gave us time to reflect and rethink our needs and priorities, or to calm friction from too much time with family and friends. Taking breaks during negotiations is equally beneficial. Time away allows issue clarification, a chance to reset the emotional climate, and check in with stakeholders. Taking a breather is rarely a step back; more often it provides a renewed vigor  to work toward common goals.

We’re refreshed upon our return from vacation. And without realizing it, we honed our negotiation skills in the process. Be sure to apply those summer lesson to your next negotiation.

Negotiating Tip

Most people underutilize the caucus. What’s your hurry? Summarize, take a break, and make sure your counter offer is on the mark.


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Prevent An Ambush: Five Tips

By Marianne Eby

In a recent seminar, a client described a negotiation crisis he'd had: at a meeting he believed was going to be an information exchange with his wholesaler, he was ambushed: without warning, the other side brought a team of eight from his company, made a lowball offer, and then announced that they no longer needed our client's business.  What to do?

Our client was less stunned than he might have been -- the same person had pulled the same stunt two years before. Why was our client still doing business with him? A surprise attack is for competitive, not collaborative negotiations, since it tends to sacrifice the relationship to the outcome. And indeed, our client had avoided contact with the bully after the last deal, believing he would be gone by the time the contract needed renegotiation. Ending the relationship was difficult, because the bully's company had become our client's sole source of distribution.

When you have to negotiate with a bully, here are five tips for preventing and defending against a surprise attack:

  • Keep Working on Relationships. Like nasty neighbors, hostage-takers, dictators, oligopolies, and sole-source suppliers, a wholesaler who is has a large portion of your market is difficult because you can't avoid them -- you have to find a way to have a relationship with them. Prior to bargaining, work harder than you otherwise might to find affiliations, make gestures of friendliness, and get to know other people on the team and in the company. Even if you find the "bully" difficult to deal with, you will get to know him or her better, which will help you anticipate tactics and resist the angry reaction that a surprise attack can trigger.
  • Build a Strong BATNA. Your BATNA is very important in this kind of negotiation, because it is more difficult with a sole distributor. Finding alternatives to a deal with your main distributor requires a lot of probing, conversation, and relationship-development with other potential wholesalers and retailers. You may be able to negotiate with second-tier wholesalers, or plan an "end-run" around the bully and offer a deal directly to retailers. Do this legwork before an information exchange.
  • Develop a joint agenda. Get the other party to agree ahead of time on what will be discussed in a meeting. If an ultimatum or something comes up that you didn’t discuss when you negotiated the agenda, remind the other side that their new item is not on the agenda both parties agreed to and will have to wait for the next session.
  • Focus on Interests. One way to help distract from the hostility or negativity created by a tactic like a surprise attack is to focus on your own interests, and on the legitimate interests of the other side. What is the real reason for the hardball tactic? What do you really need out of the deal? Consider your BATNAs and the possible BATNAs for the other side.
  • Manage emotions. If you find yourself faced with a surprise attack despite your attempts to prevent it, it will be critical to keep your cool. Anger blurs thinking.  Our client wisely did not respond to his counterpart's ambush and mostly kept his cool -- then went to gather intelligence about the other side. He found that the bully had treated a number of other companies to a similar tactic, but had not met with most of them. Thus our client discovered he had more bargaining power than he realized.

Our client's plan after our discussion was to circle back to other retailers and wholesalers and explore his options and strengthen his BATNA before returning to the bully. Stay tuned for an update!

Negotiating Tip

Always thank them.


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Negotiation Blog

Position and Interest in the Sequester Negotiations

By Thomas Wood

Lawmakers engaged in the sequester negotiations are suffering from an awkward tension between their interests and their positions.

A negotiator's position, as we know, is their stated goal or desire, while their interest is their underlying reason or motivation for their stated goal. For example, a buyer wants a 10% discount (position) to stay under budget and improve profit (interest).

Usually, interests and positions are connected but not identical.  Once a good negotiator knows the other side's interests, he or she can offer new creative options to the other party's original position by addressing its interests in other ways.  A seller who knows a buyer's interest is primarily staying under budget, for example, might offer something else as valuable as the discount a buyer has requested, such as free training on the equipment being sold.

But what do you do when a negotiator's position is in direct opposition to its interests? An article in Politico yesterday reports that Republican governors have publicly signed on to letters bashing Obama and praising House Republicans' efforts in the sequester debate, but meanwhile their offices are urging lawmakers to keep bargaining -- the cuts that would kick in could be devastating to programs in their states.  

In this case, as is often true in politics, the real interest behind the governors' stated positions is to "save face," or to satisfy both the party leadership and their constituents.  Any feasible solution for these politicians would have to take those interests into account rather than responding to the face value of their position.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating over the telephone, be slower than usual to agree to new ideas or requests. You can always call back once you've considered how to say "yes" in exchange for some value.


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Negotiation Blog

Law & Order Viewers Learn Bargaining

By Marianne Eby

For the last 20 years, the popular television American crime drama Law and Order has taught hundreds of millions of viewers in 19 countries about US criminal law. What those viewers may not realize, however, is that they have also become quite familiar with the nuances of negotiation strategies that apply to commercial and internal negotiations as well. Watch this show and you'll improve your own bargaining skills, maybe even earn your get out of jail free card.

Since trials are expensive and unpredictable, both sides in any legal dispute—including criminal cases—try to reach a settlement before resorting to court.  A plea bargain, as its name indicates, is an agreement on the plea the defendant will enter; in exchange for the simplicity and efficiency of a guilty plea, the prosecutor will make some kind of concession in the punishment.  

We may forget that plea bargaining is just bargaining.  What’s different about it, and what makes it so drama-worthy, is that the conequences are life binding. Instead of the parties negotiating over money, scope and terms (the traditional objects of commercial bargaining), they are often trading the parameters for criminal punishment — jail time, psychiatric treatment, or another kind of restriction.  Money can play a role as well, in terms of fines, relinquished assets or victim compensation, but nothing gets more heated than when the primary concern is our freedom.  With such heightened stakes, the plea bargaining on Law & Order surreptitiously involves and instructs viewers in a number of issues that arise in all bargaining.  

First, the likely negotiation strategy for plea bargaining in a criminal case would seem to be competitive rather than collaborative -- defendants certainly value the outcome more than their relationship with the prosecutor.  And, at first glance, it may appear that the opposing sides in a plea bargain are of unequal strength, which should lead to a one-sided negotiation. 

But regular viewers of Law & Order come to understand that the complex variety of cases and their handling by attorneys who work with each other regularly can complicate the bargaining process and lead to a variety of negotiation strategies -- from competition to compromise -- depending on the case. Though the prosecution has all the resources of the police and other government agencies on its side, the defense has some advantages. For instance, it need not prove the client’s innocence, only raise reasonable doubt about the state’s claims of guilt. Defendants are also often able to gain concessions on jail time and other penalties by assisting the state in other prosecutions. 

Plea bargaining on Law & Order also gives us a clear view of the difference between a negotiator’s position and interest. The defendant's position is his or her plea -- guilty or not guilty.  But it is in his or her interest to consider a different plea, based on the likelihood of conviction, if it will reduce his or her sentence. The defendant's interest can include things like less jail time, confinement at a particular facility, lower bond, dropped charges, etc. Also lawyers can have different interests than those of their clients -- defense attorneys are paid more if they go to trial, and always need to maintain a good relationship with the prosecutor becasue their next deal may depend on it.   

The prosecution’s stated position is that it must punish the defendant for his/her crime. Its interest, however, is in curbing crime generally, sometimes by using information from lesser criminals to successfully prosecute more serious offenders, information they are willing to trade for a reduced sentence. On “Law & Order,” consideration of this sort of trade is often presented as a moral dilemma, pitting the greater good against justice in a particular case.

Law & Order also gives viewers a sense of the nuances, timing, and performance of a skilled negotiation. The attorneys on the show (and the viewers) enter a plea-bargaining process knowing the facts of the crime, the evidence, and the law. But we know after several episodes how equally important is the understanding of the other side's histories and tendencies for well-timed offers and proposals, and skillful responses.

If no bargain can be struck, both parties have the same Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)-- a trial, with high costs and risks for both sides. But regular viewers of the show know they need only wait for the next episode to see another negotiation unfold.

Negotiating Tip

When the other party says no to your offer your most powerful response is simply to ask Why or Why Not. – with sincere curiosity.

 


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