Ask "why" to understand interests. Ask your counterpart’s advice on how to achieve shared goals. Be sincerely curious.
Negotiation Blog - MDO
Importance of good moods during bargaining phase of negotiations
By Thomas Wood
I recently led a webinar where I shared a number of tips to gain a psychological edge in negotiations. One thing I really enjoy about webinars is the interaction. You can ask the group a question and everyone can write in their answers at the same time. You can hear from everyone quickly.
For example, I was speaking about the importance of putting your counterpart in a good mood before you start to negotiate. This is an overlooked, yet essential part of the initial exchange at the bargaining table. People in a bad mood say "no;" they don’t say "yes." People in a bad mood are inflexible, and would rather get their teeth pulled at the dentist than make concessions. Yet, while someone would never walk into a negotiation without knowing what their MDO (most desirable outcome) is, they would start to negotiate with a counterpart who is in a bad mood, even though it is almost as important to get your counterpart in a good mood as it is to know your MDO.
In my experience, many people walk into a negotiation and they are so nervous themselves, that they don’t even notice the mood of their counterpart. Sometimes both parties are nervous and neither person is doing anything to help calm down and relax their counterpart, as they can’t even relax themselves.
What was refreshing and interesting in this webinar was to hear how people get their counterparts in a good mood. They used food, talking about their families, telling jokes and laughing about something light. When you hear these responses, it sounds so easy. You will get better trades when your negotiating counterpart is in a good mood. So why don’t we do this more often?
Does your personality or style have an effect on your success as a negotiator?
By Thomas Wood
At a workshop I recently conducted we had an interesting discussion regarding negotiation styles. Some of the participants said they were shy and wondered if this would affect their success as negotiators. They were surprised to learn my answer.
In my experience, some of the best negotiators are actually calm, laid-back and quiet. This often surprises people because they have an image of successful negotiators as being flamboyant, high-energy and somewhat colorful. That is typically true in the movies, but not necessary in real life.
The beauty of the Best Negotiating Practices (BNPs) we teach is that they fit every negotiation style and personality. As long as negotiators do their homework, start at their most desirable outcome (MDO), listen for the true interests of their counter-parts, and use the rest of the BNPs, they will usually have a satisfying outcome of mutual gain, no matter how shy or out-going they are.
Having said that, one might consider cultural differences when deciding what the most effective personality style of your lead negotiator should be. In some cultures, my out-going, energetic style will be welcomed, in other cultures it will backfire on me (more on cultures in a future blog). You should also consider the personality style of your counterpart when deciding who should be your lead negotiator.
At the end of the day though, everyone has the potential to become a master negotiator, no matter what personality style you have.
Will I insult people if I start high (or start low) in negotiations?
By Thomas Wood
This is one of the most commonly asked questions I get when I teach people in Watershed workshops that they need to open the negotiation by asking for their MDO (most desirable outcome). At Watershed, we refer to the MDO as the highest position within the realm of reasonability. Sure, it is not likely you will get your MDO, but it is defensible, and under the right circumstances you would get your MDO, and that is why it is not objectively insulting.
Take a simple example: You ask for bids from 3 graphics art firms for a project. The firm you would like to use is top notch and by far the best of the three, and its bid reflects this at 22% higher than the next highest bid. Are you insulted because the graphics art firm started at its MDO? You’re not insulted because you could conceive of paying for this high quality, even though you want a cheaper price.
Insults go both ways of course. Some people might be afraid to negotiate with the high-bid firm out of fear of insulting the bidder. But there are so many moving parts to the agreement -- deadline, payment terms, scope of work, follow-up support, approval process, etc. -- that you can easily negotiate without being insulting. It is completely legitimate to say,
“I really like your work and would like to use you, but your prices are much higher than the other bids we received. Would you be able to move on your price by 20% if we had someone from our team do some of the grunt work and we pay you 50% up front?”
You started “high” (low in this case) at your MDO. There is nothing insulting about your counter-offer.
On rare occasion your MDO will insult people. Let’s face it; people become insulted even though what we did is not objectively insulting. Last week I saw relatives become insulted by where they were seated at a celebration, even though their seating was given much consideration. It is just how they choose to see the situation.
If someone tells me they are insulted by my offer, I simply apologize, tell them that it was not my intention to insult them, that I want to do business with them in part because I respect them, and then I explain why I think my offer is legitimate. Insulted people typically calm down when given attention and information, and we are able to come to a mutually satisfying agreement.
Don’t let the fear of insulting someone keep you from asking for your MDO. Because it can get in the way of getting what belongs to you.
Negotiator's Keys to a Powerful BATNA
By Marianne Eby
Never enter a serious negotiation without knowing your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement, or BATNA: a plan that you are willing to execute if there is no agreement.
The value of your BATNA is not just that you'll know what to do if a negotiation falls through (your Plan B) -- it's that your BATNA gives you power while you are negotiating.
On one hand, a BATNA is just another piece of important information you prepare. It is one element of your "negotiating envelope" that you must define before engaging with the other party -- along with your Goal, your Most Desirable Outcome (MDO), and your Least Acceptable Agreement (LAA). Although negotiation is a fluid process and you will continually revise your parameters in response to the other party's, this negotiation envelope guides your concessions in Bargaining.
The BATNA differs from the other defining decisions because its execution stands outside the negotiating process—by definition, it’s what you do when negotiation is not working. So while other parameters help you steer the negotiations, it is your BATNA that makes you a stronger negotiator -- because you don't need the other party’s permission or involvement to execute it.
Recently the Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU) demonstrated the power of every union's BATNA: the ability to strike. Although recent decades have seen a decline in union bargaining power, teachers unions are increasingly vulnerable, and the union leader in Chicago lacked influence with the Mayor, Chicago's teachers were able to force 300,000 students out of the classroom, shut down the third largest school system in the country, and win some key compromises from the Mayor.
Under US law, a union's potential BATNA is always to strike. Yet, many a union’s strike BATNA doesn't always have the power that the CTU's did, because some organizations will counter with their own BATNA: the use of "scabs," or non-union workers who can take the place of the striking workers. The NFL, for example, prepared for its recent referee strike by preparing substitute officials to run its games.
Of course, the implementation of a BATNA isn't always preferable (Chicago students lost instructional time) and if it's not well-planned, it can backfire as a means to more power in your negotiation. The NFL's use of replacement referees certainly backfired, causing several weeks of outrage, greater esteem for the regular referees, and ultimately some damage to the NFL "brand."
The ideal way to use a BATNA is to let the other side know you have one. Though an executed BATNA can mark the end (at least temporarily) of the negotiating process, that doesn’t mean that a contemplated BATNA shouldn’t be an integral part of that process. Letting your counterparts know—in an advisory rather than threatening way—that you have other options is an important part of your negotiating stance.
Despite the word "Best" in BATNA, you can have more than one—in fact, you should have more than one, because the more you have, the greater your flexibility and power. BATNAs can vary from a move as simple as finding a new supplier of goods or services, to one as radical as dropping a project altogether. The better conceived and more numerous your BATNAs, the less likely you’ll need them. The other side will know you have viable alternatives, which will make them more willing to deal.
Here are the main things to remember as you develop your BATNA:
- The more BATNAs you have and the more willing and ready you are to execute one, the less likely you will need a BATNA.
- Consider short-term and long-term BATNAs. Sometimes you don’t have a BATNA and must reach agreement. Be sure to continue working on a long-term BATNA for future use.
- Find a graceful way to ensure the other side knows you have BATNAs and you are willing to execute them. Reveal this information during the Exchange stage. In the Bargaining stage, you will decide if and when to reveal your BATNAs.
- BATNAs can be used as an advisory or a threat. Threats damage relationships; advisories strengthen them.
- If you are not willing and able to execute your BATNA, it's not a BATNA -- it's a bluff.
- You don't need your negotiating counterpart's agreement to develop or execute your BATNAs; these decisions are yours and your organizations.
- Any BATNA should be a solid, viable alternative to an agreement, and one the other party will recognize as such. The NFL learned from experience that a poorly conceived BATNA will backfire, often costing more than the originally requested concessions.
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 GOP interest 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.
What Negotiators Can Learn From Kids
By Thomas Wood
In our negotiation workshops, some of our favorite examples of effective negotiating strategies come from kids. They always get a laugh of recognition, because even our most experienced negotiators know that they can be outmaneuvered by a 4-year old.
There are countless parenting blogs and books devoted to negotiating with your kids, or avoiding negotiation with your kids -- all designed to help you handle the little wizards without losing your shirt. One blog, "Like A Dad," reviews a few common kid tactics as a way of helping parents recognize and prepare for them. But as negotiators, we need to ask -- what tactics can we learn from them?
Kids with caring parents do have a number of advantages over adult negotiators -- they won't do damage to their reputation if they are unprofessional, whiny, or outrageous in their demands. But here are five effective negotiation strategies kids use that we should too -- followed by a few we should leave to the less mature./learning-center-item/listen-loudly.html
Top Five Negotiating Strategies From Kids:
- Think big. When my son was two, he heard the crinkling of a candy wrapper in my pocket. He said "candy?" I said "oh, would you like one?" He said "two." Kids ask for what they want, not for what they think you'll agree to. In fact, they have a good idea that you will not agree. They have no compunction about starting with their Most Desirable Outcome (MDO). If they want three cookies, they'll ask for five, then do the "incremental number drop." Aiming high is the key to beginning negotiations that will produce a satisfying outcome.
- Don't take no for an answer. When kids hear "no," they get motivated, not discouraged. Kids often understand "no," or "time's up" as a signal to begin negotiating. You too should recognize "no" as a sign that you and your bargaining partner don't understand each other, and you need to ask more questions.
- Be genuinely curious. Kids' love to ask the question "why?" not to drive you crazy, but because they really want to know. They keep asking questions, open-ended questions, with the same enthusiasm as their first question. Kids have infinite energy for questioning and testing the limits parents establish. I once told my son he couldn't do something dangerous that his sister had just done. After a little back and forth I offered the standard stumper, "if your sister jumped off a cliff, would you?" His answer: "how high is the cliff?" And then "could you slide down it?"
- Be creative. My son's question about the cliff was so creative I had to hand it to him -- perhaps I even made a concession. Creativity always creates more -- more possibilities, more concession ideas, more value, more goodwill. If the other side sees that you thinking creatively about how to satisfy their real interests, you are more likely to get a concession and develop a good relationship. So nurture your childlike creativity, because research says that up to age 5, we are using about 85% of our creative power, but that by the age of 12, our creative output has shrunk to about 2% of our potential.
- Play one parent off another, or, know who to ask. Kids know how to manage ALL the stakeholders. They know which parent is more likely to say yes to certain things, and will approach that parent first, then parlay any positive response into something that might persuade the second parent. Or, if both parents say no, kids will try a grandparent (the ultimate stakeholders) or an aunt or uncle if they can -- ideally one who will make an emotional, rather than a rational, decision. "Okay, you can take your bath after the movie instead." In business deals, you too need to try to find the person most likely to benefit from your deal, and start there. All of this requires knowledge of the other side and of their real interests. What we may call manipulative is just knowing how to use the difference between positions and interests. Example: "I know my TV time is up but this show is about nature, Dad, isn't it good for me to learn this?"
Childish Tactics to Avoid:
- Pretending not to hear or understand. This is the ignoring tactic my kids use every day. It's an avoidance tactic, not a negotiating one, and it will not help you get what you want. If you have that impulse, recognize what it probably is: a need for clarification, for more time or for control of the timing in the negotiation process, and proceed from there.
- Throwing tantrums or crying. Though there are arguments for occasionally using tantrums as a tactic, it is part of a competitive, rather than a collaborative negotiation strategy. In general such behavior alienates and ultimately loses business. Kids don't have to worry (too much) about what they'll lose from a tantrum, because the relationship with their caregivers is (hopefully) guaranteed.
- Pretending to be sick -- just one of many ways kids have of playing on parents' sympathies and concerns, and not likely to be useful to a negotiator who wants to make more than one deal. It may work within your office to gain your boss' sympathy and concern, but not otherwise.
When I first became a parent, a final lesson from my mother: "Thomas, as a parent your goal is talk to your kids so they will listen. And listen to your kids so they will talk.