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The Art of Negotiating: Creative Collaborations

Negotiating is a hot topic these days for a good reason. It is difficult to imagine a more vital managerial skill than the skill of negotiating. Effective managers must be superior negotiators. Without solid negotiating abilities, managers will inevitably make serious mistakes in dealing with people at all levels, both inside and outside their organizations.

As negotiators, managers must concern themselves with substantive issues and their continuing relationships with people. If they push too much, they may create hard feelings and a desire to exact revenge. If they are overly concerned about getting along with others, they may lose in many substantive areas, thereby negatively impacting upon their department and their organization.

Successful negotiating involves trading-off between getting along with people and getting what you want. All negotiators face this dilemma: “How can I get what I really desire and yet maintain a friendly relationship with the other side?” Those who can achieve these seemingly contradictory objectives have mastered the art of negotiating.

Negotiation is a discussion between two or more people with the goal of reaching an amicable agreement on issues separating the parties when neither side has the power nor the desire to use its power to get its own way.

Five Approaches To Negotiating

Forcing: A Win-Lose Outcome: This is a hard-nosed approach that makes heavy demands from the outset. Emotions are displayed frequently, few concessions are made, and the bottom line may be concealed. This technique is used when the other side is determined to make you lose, or in one-shot deals. One advantage of this approach is that it normally uses less time than other approaches and leads to total victory if you have more power than the other side. The disadvantage of forcing is that it can lead to stalemate if the other side uses the same approach. The other side can also become resentful and vengeful.

This approach to negotiating places value solely on the substance of negotiations rather than the relationship between the parties. A forcing negotiator would be pleased if he or she won 100% of the issues, even if the relationship between the parties was irreversibly damaged or even destroyed. This approach has limited use within organizations. It is foolish and dangerous to burn bridges with anyone with whom you work. Perhaps if you are negotiating with a person you’ll never deal with again (e.g., a used car salesperson) you might want to experiment with the forcing approach. Otherwise, this isolating type of negotiation is not relevant for most managers.

Compromising: A No-Win Outcome: In the compromising approach, both negotiators start with exaggerated demands and then slowly work their way toward some middle position. The parties are concerned only with their own needs, and they may also stereotype and malign each other. Compromising is used when the parties are interdependent and continued dispute would be more costly than agreement. The benefits of compromising are that it is a natural style for most people, and it appears to be quite fair as both sides win and lose. The drawback of compromising is that it can lead to extreme initial positions as both sides anticipate splitting the difference, therefore yielding agreements about which neither side is really happy.

There are no serious problems associated with this style. In fact, it is the approach most commonly used in collective bargaining between management and union representatives. It can, however, lead to great distortions, ridiculous demands, and stalemate if one of the sides does not understand how the process works.

Avoiding: A Lose-Lose Outcome: This approach is characterized by losing, leaving, and withdrawing. No commitments are made, and behavior is impersonal. Use this approach when you would get hurt by staying or when you want to change the ground rules. It is useful when issues are trivial and is helpful when the other side has much greater power. Its disadvantage is that the problem is left unresolved, and this can result in nothing getting done if too many problems are swept under the rug.

In the avoiding approach, at least one of the parties displays a subtle reluctance or unwillingness to resolve the issues. This approach is of little use for those working with organizations as it strains relationships and prevents the building of trust between the parties involved. Using this approach can also increase the other party’s resistance to negotiation.

Accommodating: A Lose-Win Outcome: Under this approach, the parties are yielding, and they try to avert conflict. The accommodating negotiator undervalues his own worth and accomplishments and places top priority on maintaining peaceful relations with others. It is a “don’t rock the boat” philosophy used when there is a need to concede on small points in order to gain on major points later. It is helpful when the other side is right and you need to give in, or when preservation of the relationship is more important than negotiation. Among its problems are that it creates potential IOU’s for future negotiations. Furthermore, it may hand you a major loss on important issues and can lead to a habit of concession on many issues, hence decreasing your power and reputation.

This approach gives away too much by overly emphasizing the relationship between the parties. Accommodating may satisfy the other party while your interests suffer. Use this approach when appropriate, but do not make a habit of it.

Collaborating: A Win-Win Outcome: This is a problem-solving approach that looks for a workable solution and even-handedly explores the needs of the parties until they are reasonably satisfied. Its advantages are that both sides can win big and collectively find solutions, ideas,and outcomes that go beyond the scope of the individual parties involved. Personal relationships can improve rather than deteriorate. Its pitfalls are that it can be extremely time-consuming, and that negotiators with a forcing style may interpret this approach as weakness.

Guidelines for Effective Collaborative Negotiating

The first step in successful collaborative negotiating is the acceptance of a “win-win” philosophy of negotiating. The basic idea is that you give the other party something it needs or desires and that the same is done for you. Most of us have a good idea of what it means to arrive at a win-win solution, but comprehension and execution are two different things. The win-win technique involves managing the outcome by clearly assessing your needs as well as the other side’s needs and being able to establish an appropriate strategy to achieve them.

Prepare: This often-neglected initial step in any negotiation is extremely important. Most negotiation experts agree that every successful negotiation is one part face-to-face discussion and nine parts homework. Preparation includes: 1) clearly defining objectives on each issue; 2)carefully developing a hierarchy of acceptable positions on the issues; 3) creating solid,reasonable arguments to support each position; 4) developing and coordinating strategies foruse while at the negotiating table; 5) anticipating the positions and the rebuttals of the other party.

Other important aspects of homework are making negotiating team assignments, specifying team-members roles, selecting the proper site, preparing time schedules and agendas, and developing a sign-and-signal vocabulary the negotiating team can use at the table.

You needs to also be able to answer the what and why questions: “What do I want to achieve through negotiations and why do I want it?” “What does the other side want and why do they want it?” If you cannot answer these questions, you are not adequately prepared for the negotiations.

Each of us has a unique perception of the reality we face. In negotiations, most of us judge ourselves as more reasonable and accommodating than the other side. The other side has the same perception of us. Be aware of these dangerous misconceptions and consciously deal with them since hostilities can escalate and irreparably damage negotiations.

To establish trust during the actual negotiation you must build upon a common ground. Begin with a positive approach that solicits immediate agreement from all sides. Your initial statement must solicit agreement on the general problem. Asking everyone to focus on a mutually desired result will not only help build trust, but it will also reduce anxiety and encourage open communication. Negotiations collapse without a strong foundation of trust; take great pains to create it.

Use your creativity and imagination: Most negotiations could really use a dash or two of imaginative thinking. The best agreements for all concerned are usually not considered because nobody has even thought of. Premature criticism and closure kill creative thinking. In order to foster creativity and imagination, set aside some time during negotiations to examine different and unusual approaches. During this brief period, permit everyone to think out loud without committing to any ideas. To encourage discussion of creative ideas, criticism, laughter, and ridicule must not be tolerated during the brainstorming process.

Concentrate on the issues: The other side is not your enemy. Like you, they have legitimate desires and needs that negotiations must fulfill. The objective is to negotiate the disagreements on issues — not the person or people on the other side of the table. Providing the other side with satisfying results fosters good will, continues amicable relationships, and achieves a strong commitment on their part to fully implement the agreement. There are significant advantages and no disadvantages to following these reasonable guidelines. Looking out for yourself is fine, but look out for the other side as well.

Your personal style of negotiation need to recognize that relationships are ongoing. You must not emphasize slick maneuvers that finesse and manipulate the other side, but instead focus on direct, fair, and honest dealings leading toward a partnership. Otherwise, antagonism, poor relations, and distrust may emerge.

Volunteer to do the paperwork: Paperwork is not a fun chore, and those who take the notes,write the memos, and prepare the reports are usually more pleased with the final results. Most negotiators first agree on general terms, with the specifics worked out in detail and in writing. The person who does the writing tends to write out the details from his or her perspective and interpretation of the general agreement. Seek this powerful and fortunate position. Don’t surrender it to the other side.

Set a deadline: Too frequently, negotiations drag on with no end in sight. One way to avoid interminable negotiations is to establish a firm, specific deadline. A deadline forces everyone to use time more economically and to concentrate on the key issues. The deadline, however, must be appropriate for the issues involved. The more complex the issue, the more time the negotiations will require. Even in complex negotiations, a deadline can be invaluable.

Develop an alternative plan. Anticipate the fact that you may not be able to reach an agreement. Not every negotiation will conclude with a handshake and a resolution of the issues. All negotiators must plan carefully for this situation. By developing a good BOA — best optimal alternative — effective negotiators help themselves. If you can walk away from negotiations and be happy with your alternatives, you have developed considerable bargaining power. If your BOA is good, reveal it to the other side at some point during the negotiations. It makes them realize you really do have options. These options allow you to reject bad agreements and to walk away from fruitless negotiations.

Use the power of silence: You don’t have to talk all the time or even most of the time. Most excellent negotiators have learned the art of active listening and the power of silence. Silence does not mean you are stupid, ill-prepared, rude, or asleep. One of the greatest compliments you can give another is to listen to what they are saying — not to find out what’s wrong with their thinking, but to discover what they truly want and why. So practice listening,understanding the other side, and even appreciating their positions and motivations.

Stop the impulse to interrupt and make your points. Restate and paraphrase to clarify what has been said. Try to hear the meaning behind and beyond the literal meaning of what people say. Listen and observe body language that can provide telling cues to the feelings that lurk behind an agenda item or an idea.

Our gestures convey our feelings in numerous ways. If we’re ready to cooperate, our hands are open; if we’re nervous, we will clear out throat; in frustration we will rub the back of our neck; fighting for self-control, we will clinch our hands; to show acceptance we will touch another; and we will nonverbally convey “no” by buttoning our coat.

Practice good communication skills: Negotiation is a discussion that involves communication between two or more people. But differing perceptions, different connotations of words and phrases, and even body language can prevent totally accurate communication. To be an excellent negotiator, one must also be an excellent communicator.

How you say things is as important as what you say

  • Negative statements are guaranteed to preserve the other party’s desire to take an adversarial rather than a cooperative position.
  • Use the other party’s language to make your point in a way that shows an understanding of their concerns.
  • Never directly attack someone’s principles. Distinguish the principle from the body of your argument.
  • Introduce any new or foreign concepts early in the negotiation. Use repetition to familiarize the other party with the concept. Before long the concept will be recognized and often accepted.
  • Use props whenever possible. People place much more value on what they see than what they hear.
  • Make it a habit to rephrase or restate positions that initially receive a negative response.

Asking, looking, and listening

  • A good question helps you secure immediate attention, maintains interest in the topic being discussed, and directs the course of the conversation. Also, questioning often helps the other party better understand your objectives.

Watch your body language and mannerisms

  • Good eye contact is essential to establishing trust. Talk directly to the person across the table.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Do not intimidate. Watch the tone and pitch of your voice.
  • Regularly express appreciation of the other party’s time and efforts to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
  • Always end your meetings on a positive note.

Collaborative negotiating is a win-win strategy that can focus the resources of the people involved in the process towards strengthening results, productivity, quality, creativity, and innovation in problem-solving.

To use the collaborative approach to negotiating you will have to:

  1. Agree on the aim of negotiations: Before any sort of bargaining can begin, you and your counterpart must define the who-what-where-when-how-and-why of the issue and have a general idea of the objectives and dimensions of a solution.
  2. Acknowledge the other person’s position: Negotiating doesn’t require that the two of you hold similar positions of authority. It doesn’t require that you like each other. But it does require that you be prepared to treat the other person as an adult, be ready to listen as well as talk, and to recognize that your view is not necessarily the only one.
  3. Gain the other person’s trust: No matter how logical and factual you are, the other party will doubt your credibility. Good faith commences with symbolic acts like eye contact, shaking hands, pulling out a chair for someone, and it is maintained by consistent honesty. If you want others to level with you, level with them. Although you may feel that an occasional bluff could help your position, don’t gamble. The consequences can be disastrous if your hand is called.
  4. Identify areas of mutual interest and agreement: Before two people can resolve differences, they must find a common ground where meaningful negotiations can begin.
  5. Set a positive accepting tone: The tone of negotiations must be positive. This applies both to what is discussed and how it is discussed. If you have to say something negative, phrase it in a positive way or preface it with a positive statement. Phrase words so that they elicit a positive response to advance your position rather than stop the negotiation. This helps to prevent defensive reactions and promotes affirmative thinking.
  6. Be aware of what you are saying and doing: People sometimes become so intent on watching, listening, or speaking to others that they fail to watch themselves. Words, body language, tone of voice, and voice inflection have many ambiguous meanings. Humor is especially troublesome — it can be interpreted as flippant or sarcastic. Only through self-observation can you be certain that you are conveying the message you want in the manner you want.
  7. Maintain a question and answer exchange: The heart of any negotiation is the ongoing dialogue during which negotiators discover each other’s feelings, understandings, attitudes, prejudices, and objective views of the situation. It enables you to acquire the proper perspectives, separate actual from fancied needs, isolate the real obstacles, and identify what approach to use in obtaining agreement. Ask specific, open-ended questions, and probe areas of conflict to uncover as much information as possible. Your own answers and statements must be equally candid.
  8. Develop proposals and compromises: Proposals and compromises need to be developed in which everyone wins something. Start by resolving a small difference and build from there, conceding minor points that your counterpart considers major, swapping concessions until a partial or total resolution of the larger issue is reached. Should a deadlock occur on one topic, move on to another and resolve that one. Agreement in one area often softens disagreement in a related area and releases new ideas that lead to settlement. The trick is to keep the proposals and counterproposals coming and the forward momentum continuing until all possible segments of the issue have been resolved.
  9. Handle objections tactfully: The negotiation process isn’t a debate — arguing and scoring points only encourage the other person to maintain a rigid position in order to save face. If an objection is well-founded and rational, accept it and allow the individual to proceed to other points that may be more favorable to your views. If an objection is irrational, accept it temporarily and move on to other topics that may enable the person to see for himself that his thinking was illogical or his opinions were based on false fears and doubts.
  10. Summarize each topic: Frequent summaries ensure that everyone is proceeding in the same direction and will ultimately reach the same destination. They need not be formal, but they do need to spell out results. Ask the other person for a brief rehash of what you’ve covered so far — points of agreement, areas of disagreement, concessions, and conclusions. Jot down important points. These can prove invaluable during the final stages of the negotiation.
  11. Don’t give up: Even when there seems to be no hope for a meeting of the minds, hang in there. Negotiations are cyclical, and what is steadfast today may be negotiable tomorrow. Given time to rethink their positions and adjust to new ideas and situations, people often soften their rigid postures. So don’t press the issue; give yourself and the others involved a few days away from the bargaining table to relax and review what has transpired.
  12. Leave Options Open: Never box yourself or the other side into a corner. A public stance coupled with a threat or an ultimatum are the two most common ingredients in the cornering strategy. Try not to take a public stance that will prove impossible to retract without losing face. Avoid the disasters of threats and ultimatums. Such emotional surges can destroy the desire of both sides to concentrate on the merits of the various proposals and may cause distrust in the process.

Negotiation, in summary, is a specialized communication process for reconciling known differences between people. It is the supreme test of your human-relations skill and management maturity. It also is the only way of achieving consensus and commitment, the real objectives of any settlement.

Being able to create a successful, collaborative negotiation process which results in solid, long-term relationships will invaluably contribute to your success as a manager.