Negotiate, Collaborate: 5

by Christopher Lovejoy on February 22, 2020

how do you know when you’re about to enter a nego?
when “I need” or “I want” come begging for a hearing

I’m reading from professionals these days that everything we’ve been taught about negotiation is wrong. For one, we’re not as rational as we might think, and for two, whether openly displayed or carefully concealed, perception and emotion play huge roles in deciding outcomes.

They also say there’s no such thing as “fair” in a skillfully executed negotiation. What is fair? Whatever the parties to a negotiation say is fair. In light of this revelation, compromise is the worst thing you could possibly do prior to getting to that elusive pronouncement: “it’s a deal.”

I brought some clarity to the nature of negotiation in Negotiate, Collaborate. I followed this with Negotiate, Collaborate: 2, where I outlined the stages that go into making up a comprehensive negotiation. In Negotiate, Collaborate: 3, I discussed the meaning of having exploratory conversation in search of actual need, setting the tone and pace for the negotiation to come.

In Negotiate, Collaborate: 4, I put the spotlight on the power of listening intently with a view towards understanding a different point of view, regardless of the ensuing uncertainty and confusion that inevitably arise when you attempt to hold up the net of safety for those involved.

The best conversation in a negotiation is a collaboration (how’s that for poetry?). The tools of the trade now make this possible. A negotiation, however, is complex, but need not be complicated if, when you know what you’re doing; so what can we learn about negotiating magic?

In today’s world, expert negotiators apply a code of correct conduct called tactical empathy to gather insight into another perspective, to foster trust, to demonstrate understanding, to diffuse or defuse the blows of negativity and reactivity with gently probing hypotheticals, and to disarm complaints about them personally by speaking them aloud before getting down to brass tacks.

Here’s a quick and rather dramatic example …

“Look, I know I have a reputation for being a tough negotiator, but I also have a side of me that really cares about getting the best deal for everyone concerned … it seems like you’re chomping at the bit to tell me what you actually need to make a great deal. Please, do tell.”

Competent negotiators generate unconditional positive regard, aiming for the ever uncompromising “that’s right” from their counterparts rather than the ever accommodating yet compromising “yes, you’re right,” while emotionally affirming the counterpart’s point of view with paraphrasing and summaries, paving the way to getting a bona fide proposal made prior to striking a bargain.

At the beginning of a negotiation, savvy negotiators draw on the power of No: they “go for the No” before they “get to the Yes.” What does this mean exactly? First, it helps to understand that asking questions that put pressure on others to keep saying “yes” will cause them to raise their shields, yanking the locus of control away from them and depriving them of the illusion of control.

Note the difference between …

(a) is now a good time to talk?

and

(b) is now a bad time to talk?

Question B sounds more comfortable to me, and the reason why this is so has to do, believe it or not, with the part of the brain called the amygdala being hard-wired for negativity and survival. For the amygdala, safety and control are intimately connected with negativity. If I can say “no” comfortably, this confers a stronger sense of control than if I feel compelled to say “yes.”

“Wait, what am I saying ‘yes’ to now? I don’t feel safe; I no longer feel in charge. Help me to say ‘no’.” Here are some potent question stems that “go for the no:” Are you against …? Do you disagree with …? Have you given up on …? Is it such a ridiculous idea for you to …? Is it a bad idea to …? Is it a bad idea to get good at negotiating your way through almost any situation?

All of these negotiating tools and techniques are all well and good, but how and when are they best used throughout a negotiation? At what points in a skillfully executed negotiation are they best applied?

For context, let us first define the term negotiate


Negotiate (verb): (1) discuss the terms of an arrangement; (2) succeed in passing through, around, or over; (3) confer with another so as to come to terms or reach an agreement; (4) be successful in getting a mutually desired result or in realizing a mutually beneficial outcome

These are standard definitions; now let’s look at a working definition with more specificity:


Negotiate (verb): to navigate a field of emotional and mental resistance to agreement between two parties to bring this task to completion: to give X to Y, with respect, without regret, in exchange for Z

X = that which satisfies the exchange for Z

Y = the counterpart: partner, colleague, subordinate, superior, coworker, service worker, support worker, trader, buyer, seller, teacher, student, stranger, acquaintance, friend, relative, spouse, child

Z = what is being offered in exchange for X

Try not to let these variables intimidate you. They’re designed to guide you through a wide variety of situations into an even wider variety of interactions with people you know or are getting to know. In view of these definitions, let us review the stages of a negotiation to bring the main task of negotiation (to give X to Y, with respect, without regret, in exchange for Z) to completion.

I’ve seen more than a few schemes that outline the collaborative stages or phases that a process of negotiation passes through, but the one that resonates most and best with me runs as follows: (1) prepare, (2) exchange, (3) bargain, (4) conclude, (5) execute. In terms of retaining relationships of trust, this negotiating process is circular, with stage 5 running into stage 1.

This framework helps would-be negotiators to analyze, absorb, and apply best practices. Experienced negotiators insist on three points about it: (1) there’s no shortcut to preparation; (2) fostering trust is key; and (3) skill in communication is indispensable at each and every stage.

Although it’s easy to dwell on features and benefits, negotiations are often won or lost through perception and emotion. The way we talk and listen, and the skills we use to navigate, influence our abilities to get what we want more than the the context, the stakes, or the outcome.

Let’s look at an actual example from real life, one that is rather mundane in view of $100 million dollar plus deals, and yet one that is relevant and significant to the lives of many parents and children.

A boy wants his dad to let him stay up past his bedtime to watch a TV special. Dad, however, is a master negotiator. The boy, an apprentice, will nevertheless do his best to have his way with his dad …


Dad: time to go to bed, son

Son: aw, come on, do I have to go now?

Dad is prepared because he knows the answer to …

how do you know when you’re about to enter a nego?
when “I need” or “I want” come begging for a hearing

Let the exchange begin …

Dad: it sounds like you really wanna watch this special

Son: I really do, Dad

Dad: it might seem like I’m a stickler for discipline, but I do care about your future

Son: my future?

Dad: this is a weeknight; you have school tomorrow

Son: Dad, it seems like you’re concerned about my grades in school

Dad: I am concerned; I want you to do well

Son: look Dad, it might seem like I’ll be trying to get out of doing homework with the lame excuse of being too tired, but is it really too much to ask that I stay up this one time for this one special?

Dad: it might be; you tell me, son

Son: I see, you think I’m gonna make a habit of asking you to let me stay up past my bedtime

Dad: the thought did cross my mind; what happens if you do?

Son: so you don’t want me to see this TV special tonight because if you give an inch, I’ll take a mile; you think I’ll get in the habit of asking you to let me stay up past my bedtime every time a special comes on, and if you keep saying yes, this’ll affect my grades ~ and not in a good way

Dad: that’s right

Son (waits patiently for more)

Let the bargaining begin …

Dad (after 10 very long seconds): here’s what I’m willing to do for you: I’ll make sure I record the special on our DVR so that we can see it on Friday night; this way, your sister can watch it, too

Son: but I’m in the mood to see it now

Dad: in the mood?

Son: I’m feeling the anticipation now, and I don’t want it to go away …

Dad: are you against staying up past your bedtime for some other reason?

Son: that question hurts my brain; please ask me another question

Dad: I’m sorry, son, but I’m afraid I need to ask you the same question: (calmly, slowly) are you against staying up past your bedtime for some other reason? (pausing, one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, one thousand and …)

Son: now that you mention it, I just remembered I have a quiz tomorrow

Dad (waits patiently for more)

Let the conclusion begin …

Son: good night, Dad, and please don’t forget to record the special!

Dad: hold on, son, not so fast … are you against staying up past your bedtime for any other reason?

Son: to wake up feeling rested and refreshed?

Dad: is that an answer or a question?

Son: how about this: good habits bring good results

Dad: it sounds like you’re playing with me

Son: no Dad, I mean it; it’s just that there’s gonna come a time when I’ll want to stay up later than I already do

Dad: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there

Son: fair enough

Dad: I’m glad you told me about the quiz, son; thanks for being honest with me

Son: no worries, Dad, I care about my grades, too, you know

Dad: and so you do; good night, son

As it turned out, the execution of this negotiation was successful. Dad, master of the art of letting others have his way, saw his son off to bed at a reasonable hour, and his son got to refresh his sense of anticipation to watch the TV special on Friday night with his younger sister.

Now let’s break down each of the stages to this negotiation.

In this case, preparation was the time and energy spent on teaching or learning the skills of negotiation.

The exchange in this negotiation occurred as follows (with commentary):


Dad: it sounds like you really wanna watch this special (Dad starts with a hypothetical label because he’s not yet sure where this is headed)

Son: I really do, Dad (rejoins with a quick mirror to personalize the interaction with his dad)

Dad: it might seem like I’m a stickler for discipline, but I do care about your future (begins with a label linked with an accusation audit to clear any emotional static)

Son: my future? (a mirror to open up space for further conversation while requesting more information)

Dad: this is a weeknight; you have school tomorrow

Son: Dad, it seems like you’re concerned about my grades in school (employs a label to confirm the concern in his father’s tone)

Dad: I am concerned; I want you to do well

Son: look Dad, it might seem like I’ll be trying to get out of doing homework with the lame excuse of being too tired, but is it really too much to ask that I stay up this one time for this one special? (attempts to perform a quick accusation audit to diffuse the concern)

Dad: it might be; you tell me, son (throws the ball back into his son’s court)

Son: I see, you think I’m gonna make a habit of asking you to let me stay up past my bedtime (here, the son makes a bold assumption, and although it proves to be a sound assumption, making any kind of assumption at all during a negotiation is rarely if ever a good idea)

Dad: the thought did cross my mind (at this point, Dad won’t admit that this is an assumption); what happens if you do? (poses a question that is calibrated to get his son to think deeply about the assumption)

Son: so you don’t want me to see this TV special tonight because if you give an inch, I’ll take a mile; you think I’ll get in the habit of asking you to let me stay up past my bedtime every time a special comes on, and if you keep saying yes, this’ll affect my grades ~ and not in a good way (this is an effective summary in retrospect, as it got his dad to admit “that’s right”)

Dad: that’s right (truth be told, Dad is secretly pleased his son has gotten this far)

Son (waits patiently for more) (knows enough to apply dynamic silence, but he also knows enough to wait for up to 10 seconds for a proposal on how to proceed; if he doesn’t get a proposal from his Dad, he will simply ask his Dad: “how would you like to proceed?”)

This brief exchange demonstrates the power of “that’s right” in negotiation. At this point, if you’ve succeeded in being respectful, deferential, and credible, and your counterpart still doesn’t like what’s coming out of this, it’s a safe bet that you cannot continue to do business.

The bargain in this negotiation occurred as follows (with commentary):


Dad (after 10 very long seconds): here’s what I’m willing to do for you: I’ll make sure I record the special on our DVR so that we can see it on Friday night; this way, your sister can watch it, too

Son: but I’m in the mood to see it now (because of a lack of emotional maturity, the son unfortunately caves into voicing his need reactively, relinquishing control in the process)

Dad: in the mood? (a mirror is used to uncover more information)

Son: I’m feeling the anticipation now, and I don’t want it to go away …

Dad: are you against staying up past your bedtime for some other reason? (goes for the No)

Son: that question hurts my brain; please ask me another question (cannot admit how unusually effective this question is; that is, the cognitive dissonance that it produces proves to be too painful)

Dad: I’m sorry, son, but I’m afraid I need to ask you the same question: (calmly, slowly) are you against staying up past your bedtime for some other reason? (pausing, going for the No with dynamic silence: one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, one thousand and …)

Son: now that you mention it, I just remembered I have a quiz tomorrow (this admission plays into his dad’s hands)

Dad (waits patiently for more) (with dynamic silence)

This all-too-brief example of bargaining highlights (1) the importance of giving your counterpart the illusion of control; (2) the importance of uncovering hidden variables, and (3) the importance of preserving a sense of equanimity in the face of negative and reactive dynamics.

The conclusion to this negotiation occurred as follows (with commentary):


Son: good night, Dad, and please don’t forget to record the special!

Dad: hold on, son, not so fast … are you against staying up past your bedtime for any other reason? (goes for the No to ensure they’re clear about how a similar situation will be handled in the future)

Son: to wake up feeling rested and refreshed?

Dad: is that an answer or a question?

Son: how about this: good habits bring good results

Dad: it sounds like you’re playing with me

Son: no Dad, I mean it; it’s just that there’s gonna come a time when I’ll want to stay up later than I already do

Dad: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there

Son: fair enough (truth be told, the boy knows he has “lost” and just wants to go to bed)

Dad: I’m glad you told me about the quiz, son; thanks for being honest with me

Son: no worries, Dad, I care about my grades, too, you know

Dad: and so you do; good night, son

To be sure, master Dad could have let this one go, but after reaching a bargain with his son, Dad knew that it is always prudent to secure a commitment of “yes” from his son in the concluding phase of the negotiation prior to the execution (or, if you prefer, the implementation).

As I like to say, there’s never a “yes” without a “how” and there’s never a “yes!” without a “wow!”

In view of this dialogue, and in the light of these negotiating tactics, the role of a negotiator is that of an architect of decision, to design and apply, adaptively and dynamically, every element of a negotiation to secure consent and to ensure the implementation of said consent.

/

Addendum

Carl Rogers and Richard Farson coined the term “Active Listening” in 1957, in a paper of the same title (reprinted in 1987 in the volume “Communicating in Business Today”). They wrote as follows …

“Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people.

Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development. Listening brings about changes in peoples’ attitudes toward themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and personal philosophy.

People who have been listened to in this new and special way (editor’s note: new and special, that is, for someone living in the year 1957) become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian.”

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