Negotiation Blog

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.

Negotiating Tip

It's helpful to get a verbal commitment of willingness to be cooperative at the start of a contentious negotiation.

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Negotiation Blog

Negotiating Salary: Tactics, Blunders or Best Negotiating Practices - Part II

By Marianne Eby

Continuing saga of Bill’s job salary negotiation from last month's blog: After Jen from HR offered Bill $78,000, Bill asked, “Why do you think $78,000 is the right salary for my talent?” Before Jen could answer, Bill pulled out his resume to demonstrate that he had relevant education and work experience. Bill went through his resume and pointed out specific relevant skills and experiences that would enhance his value to the organization. Was this a productive move?

Jen appeared not to be phased by Bill’s presentation, so Bill asked her what kind of person they were looking for in the position. Now Jen started talking in a more relaxed way. In response to the skills and characteristics Jen identified, Bill asked more questions this time rather than trying to prove himself. Finally Bill asked, “Given my resume and known work product and style, is there any area of the job requirements that you feel I don’t fit or am not up to par on?”

Jen told Bill that he fit the requirements in most areas. She named two items – experience managing a virtual team, and a specific knowledge of Latin American culture, that she felt Bill was lacking.

Bill used the opportunity to address those areas with what he had done previously, and asked Jen how he might build those areas if he were to stay with the company. Jen had some ideas, and Bill showed enthusiasm for following her advice.

What do you think Bill did next?

Bill next asked Jen to reconsider the salary she had indicated in light of their discussion, and asked her if he could check back in with her in a few days. Jen seemed amenable. Bill used the opportunity to reinforce with his current manager how excited he was to tackle the projects ahead and showed serious interest in building his skill set.

Jen came back a few days later with a salary of $102K.  She explained that she was able to change the salary classification based on the experiences Bill had shared with her that revealed he wasn’t entry level after all. It was less than Bill had wanted, but he realized this was a good opportunity to build the missing skill set, and he had no other options since he had stopped his search in reliance on this job opening.

Bill indicated that he could consider the lower pay if he could work a 9/80 schedule, giving him every other Friday off. This was something others in his group already did, so he knew it was certainly possible. Jen agreed, but reminded him that he would need to coordinate the off day depending on international travel needs.

Quick Negotiation Debrief

Bill spent more time engaging Jen, and it worked to his advantage. She probably found him credible, and not just angling for more money. Bill also allowed Jen a way to save face on her original low offer. Both Bill and Jen used some Best Negotiating Practices, but also made some blunders.

Next week my colleague, Tom Wood, will blog to explore Jen and Bill's various positions and moves.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating via email, establish rapport first: start with a telephone call or web conference. Even better, if possible, start with a face-to-face meeting.

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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

Win-win is an attitude, not an outcome: people who view negotiating as an opportunity capture more value than those who see it as a threat.

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Negotiation Blog

6 Tips for Negotiating Business Deals with Asian Counterparts


Only a short time ago, business across Asia was booming. It is common knowledge that companies worldwide are dependent on Asian factories, and that the current pandemic is having a far-reaching impact on global supply chains.

Re-negotiating business deals with Asian counterparts will mean remembering your foundation lesson in cross-cultural negotiating. Here are some tips to help you wade through the negotiation process and emerge more likely to succeed.

Be aware of the decision-making process and authority
The decision-making process and authority can vary by culture — and this is important to take note of as it affects how long negotiations can take and who you need to convince. In general, Asian cultures typically have top-down or consensus-driven decision-making styles. For instance, while it may take US or German business days or weeks to make a big business decision from executives, research from the University of Hong Kong has found that the Japanese take weeks or months due to consensus-driven decisions, but can pay off with fast and smooth transitions once the decision is made. Additionally, recognition of seniority or hierarchy is also another aspect to pay attention to, as in Vietnam, you must show the eldest person respect by giving them your business card first.

Address communication gaps
Aside from having language barriers, sometimes the true meaning can get lost because of cultural mores that impact cross-cultural negotiations. For instance, most Chinese and Japanese negotiators will never directly tell you “no”, but will expect you to understand it in other ways. This is also similar in India, where business negotiators have difficulty saying "no" as it can convey an offensive message, so they too, will say statements like "We'll see" or "Maybe" when they likely mean "No". For you to understand this, you must be able to distinguish high context and low context cultures. Blog on Linguistics defines the former as a culture where the context of the situation is emphasized, while the latter is a culture that emphasizes the verbal content of the message. In other words, high-context cultures are not straightforward, while low-context cultures are more straightforward. Realizing there can be gaps as simple as whether the word “No” was used or meant will remind you to seek clarification more often. Sharpen your skills with our tips for direct and indirect negotiators.

Allow them to Save Face
The West is highly individualistic compared to Asia. And while an article by Marcus on social media points out that we too are concerned about how others think of us, as “we might pick cars, accessories, clothes, and other material possessions based on what we believe these objects say about who we are,” the concept of ‘face’ is quite different in Asia. The Asian concept of ‘face’ is described as a combination of social standing, reputation, influence, dignity, and honor, and this is why East Asian cultures emphasize the importance of social harmony. For instance, you will not see a Vietnamese or Chinese businessperson pointing out that their boss made a mistake, as it makes the boss lose face because they were wrong, and the employee will lose face because they appear disrespectful. Understanding this delicate and respectful balance will help you maintain harmonious relationships when conducting negotiations.

Don’t assume their style of expression means the same as yours
When communicating with different cultures, how the other party views expression in emotion in the business setting varies to save face (see above). For instance, some cultures, such as the Chinese or Japanese, value a reserved style of expression and emotions, as well as seeing any public display as inappropriate. On the other hand, business culture in countries like India favors high communication, expressive styles, and value emotion as part of the process. They also appreciate humility and honesty even if things go wrong, as they are happy to guide you. Understanding this will help you avoid the trap of misinterpreting a reserved or expressive style during negotiations.

Aim for equally-mutual positive outcomes
Business negotiations in Asia are an opportunity to build relationships and find common ground. Uncovering mutual goals is vital for the parties to reach a win-win solution. Research from Singapore Management University suggests that Asian culture is fundamentally a low-trust culture, and will not do business with companies who they feel will not equally give and take. Thus, sharing the alignment of goals and aiming for mutually beneficial arrangements is vital to build trust, as companies are more likely to appreciate and build a long-term relationship with you if they see you are giving to the relationship in equal measure.

Take your time
Western cultures tend to view negotiations as sprints — the faster you get it done, the better. For Asian cultures, however, it’s better to take your time. It can take a lot of time for Asian hierarchy to make a decision, so Westerners need patience. For example, some Chinese and Indonesian businesses prefer to have ‘marathon-like negotiations,’ which means that most negotiations will occur over a long period of time. Not to mention, in the US, negotiations over the phone often happen, while some Asian cultures put a lot of emphasis on face-to-face interactions, regardless of how far away the two negotiators are from each other. In Singapore or Vietnam, for instance, meeting someone for the first time should occur in person, and be scheduled at least two weeks in advance. This is because they want to know who they're meeting, their role, accomplishments, etc. ahead of time. See our tips for building in time and showing patience.

 by Farrah Prince
For the exclusive use of

Negotiating Tip

It’s easy to lose your cool when negotiating. Taking three deep breaths will quickly calm you down. Now you can think clearly again.

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