Lots of folks, including many lawyers, dread confrontation and negotiation. Others relish arguing and debating opposing points. In redefining “negotiation” in my own mind and approaching each of these situations as an opportunity to “problem-solve” I’ve found it makes a huge difference in the attitude of all parties involved.
If you do an internet search for “negotiation,” “how to be a better negotiator”, etc. you’ll find out it’s not just a process, it’s an entire industry. Many approaches to the process can be described as “classic” or “positional bargaining” and focus on the gamesmanship of a chess match when one party is trying to squeeze every ounce of concession from the other. This approach gives rise to all the anxiety, stress, or thrill associated with competition. But in my experience the only “winners” in using this approach are the people being paid for writing the books and giving the seminars.
If you’re looking for a winning negotiation strategy, take an “Interest-based” approach to negotiation as outlined in Roger Fisher and William Ury’s “Getting to Yes.” This is a small, but very valuable book that everyone – not just businesspeople should own. Really, order it now.
Interest-based negotiation is founded on four mental methods:
- People: You must separate the people from the problem.
- Interests: Positions are just cosmetic; you need to find the real interests underlying the negotiation position.
- Options: Don’t be stuck with one “deal-breaker” answer – generate real (hopefully win-win) options.
- Criteria: Work toward an objective (as such, probably more mutually agreeable) standard for a successful solution.
There is NEVER only one correct solution. It doesn’t matter if you are friends trying to work out partnership interests in a new business or a couple trying to work out if the toilet seat should be left up or down. The interest-based negotiation process works even if you’ve decided to hate each other.
I don’t have space here to discuss the entire system; it’s the subject of a whole book after all, but I’ll let you in on the biggest benefit. You have to honestly look at the situation from each person’s point of view, especially if there are more than two parties in the negotiation. What are THEIR interests? As the book says, “If you want to influence them, you also need to understand empathetically the power of their point of view and to feel the emotional force with which they believe in it. It is not enough to study them like beetles under a microscope; you need to know what it feels like to be a beetle.”
To effectively negotiate, you need to understand that the problem you are trying to solve is as much emotional as it is practical. Objective criteria may help remove the emotional attachment to positions, but sometimes you just need to understand that another’s interest can be an opportunity to vent. Sometimes it’s simply an apology. These “concessions” cost little or nothing. You need to make your proposals consistent with the other party’s emotional involvement and values. You need to give them a solution that allows them to save face but still satisfies your interests.
I don’t write Chinese, but I’ve heard the Chinese character for opportunity and crisis is the same. Interest-based negotiation can really turn a crisis into an opportunity. I’ve had many intellectual property infringement situations that initially seemed like a disaster turn into a positive business opportunity and I’ve had arguments that had gotten out of hand lead to closer, stronger relationships.
Next time you’re faced with a confrontational “negotiation” situation, adjust your attitude to an interest-based “problem-solving” situation. You’ll be glad you did.
If you are interested in learning more about negotiations, in addition to Getting to Yes I suggest that you read Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss an ex-FBI counter terrorist negotiator.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.