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Volume 10 | Issue 1

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Finding Your Way to Yes – Yes

This is a subject I’ve touched on a couple of times in the ten years I’ve been writing my newsletters. It is, however, worth reminding my readers again that compromise is essential to a successful outcome in buying and selling a product or service. To accomplish that, you must also accept that how you approach the negotiation process is also important.

One of my favorite books is Getting to Yes by Harvard professors Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. They wrote the book almost 30 years ago, and several editions later, it is still an essential reference book in my library. It is a given-a cardinal truth that informed participants look for strategies that help both sides get more of what they want in business and personal negotiations.   In academic circles, they define this as Mutual-Gains or Integrative Negotiation.

A common misconception exists that one side wins and the other loses in a negotiation. Unfortunately, many negotiations follow this maxim, and later, sometimes sooner than later, the party that dances prematurely finds itself back at the negotiating table with a much bigger problem on its hands.

It only takes one or two such experiences before people start looking for other ways to negotiate through the issues confronting them. Those who do look at negotiations differently discover that negotiating models other than Win-Lose exist and have much more successful outcomes.

They discover that by listening closely to each other, seeking a neutral and balanced approach, and jointly exploring alternative options, negotiators find ways of getting to a ‘Yes’ answer that reduces the open hostility associated with hard-bargaining tactics and unnecessary concessions.

Here are seven tips for facilitating that process:

1. Separate the people from the problem

This is not a new idea. Many management texts addressing negotiating tactics and techniques make this point, as do many professionals working in conflict environments. However, no negotiation can effectively proceed without the parties taking this first step to reduce the heat of emotion and separate it from the dispute itself.

It is necessary to create distance between people’s feelings about an issue and what they know about it. This separation process requires an emphasis or focus on discussing facts/information about the problem about which the parties disagree.

When facts are examined and discussed, emotions remain in the background, and at that point common understanding of data-driven questions becomes possible.

Mutual understanding leads to the mutually agreed definition of keywords and phrases, and once that occurs, compromise becomes possible.

Psychologists familiar with negotiating behaviors often suggest that each party be encouraged to look at the other party’s point of view. Another tactic is to ask the other party how they think things are going and explore the data/information used in that part of the discussion.

2. Focus on interests rather than positions

We tend to begin negotiations by stating our positions. Unfortunately, you set yourself up for a potential impasse by establishing firm positions early because it limits your options. The objective of any strategy is to create room to maneuver such that you can advance toward an agreement that meets your needs. To expand the playing field, you need to know what they tell you they need and what they are not telling you.

When your goal is getting to Yes, you aim to draw out the interests underlying your counterpart’s positions. The most productive way of doing this is by asking open-ended questions that create an opportunity to invite additional discussion. Some examples are:

  • “What’s important to you?”
  • “Where do you see this process taking us?”
  • “When do you want to have this project/opportunity completed?”

Identifying the interests that motivate the other party and strategically disclosing your interests creates opportunities to explore tradeoffs across issues and increase your odds of getting to your Yes.

This reinforces the goal in step one (1) about separating the emotions from the facts. Stepping back from emotions doesn’t mean you ignore them or pretend you won’t encounter them at the negotiating table. However, it does mean the negotiation process must be flexible enough for the parties to express and discuss any frustrations or concerns related to the negotiation up to a point. Allowing each side to express their concerns can benefit both sides.

That said, it is essential to set the stage. The people at the table are allowed to be passionate, but it has to be clear that passion and anger are different. At this point in any negotiation, the rules agreed to at the start become important, such as only one person speaking at a time and the others listening until that person finishes speaking.

This tactic, among others, prevents arguments from escalating. Since you know you have your turn to express your feelings, it’s easier for you to listen when your counterpart has their turn. This part of the negotiating process needs to function like a steam release valve and consequently only has a narrow purpose, and once used, the parties should move on.

3. Show appreciation

Showing appreciation may seem self-evident, but it is an often overlooked courtesy. In integrative negotiations, it is essential to recognize the small advances that sustain forward progress. In addition, these courtesies provide a means of breaking through a potential impasse. No one likes to feel unappreciated, and this is particularly true in a negotiation that is in process.

Express appreciation by working to understand your counterpart’s perspective, seeking merit in that perspective, and communicating understanding through words and actions. These are all critical ‘Yes-Yes’ negotiation skills.

4. Put a positive spin on your message

Speaking about negotiation issues positively underscores your willingness to reach across the table even when you disagree with the other’s point of view.

To the extent you can speak for yourself without presuming to speak for others. It is essential to remain positive when pointing out where a lack of progress breaks down the dialogue and creates potential barriers to success or when the negotiations uncover errors in data and information in dispute. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to use the other person’s mistakes to create a negative connotation and will quickly undermine any progress up to that point.

Regardless of its error, it needs to be treated in a low-key, fact-based manner, the steps to correct it identified, and then move on. The goal is to stay optimistic so that the parties can find a solution.

5. Avoid the action and reaction trap

In getting to your ‘Yes’, you must avoid the common negotiation trap of action and reaction. For example;

  • When one side announces a firm position, the other criticizes and rejects it.
  • When one side criticizes the other’s proposal, their typical response is to defend harder and dig in even deeper.

It is important to see these tactics for what they are, and it can require a form of negotiation jujitsu to avoid damaging any progress made. Refusing to react as the other party expects allows you to stop their efforts to escalate. Also, it enables you to work the discussion into more productive negotiation strategies, such as:

  • Exploring mutual interests
  • Inventing options for mutual gain
  • Searching for independent standards

Focusing on ‘Win-Win’ options makes you far more likely to achieve a ‘Yes-Yes’ result. However, more likely does not mean certainty. The desired outcome – a yes from both parties- isn’t always possible. So, how do you proceed when the answer is not a yes? Is it a hard ‘No,’ or a soft ‘No”? What are your options?

Do you…

  • Accept what is already on the table?
  • Do you walk away if you still don’t agree?
  • How do you keep the conversation going if it looks like the other person means ‘No’?
  • What do you do next?

6. Stay Calm

While no one likes to hear ‘No,’ any negotiation is a situation where you’re likely to hear the word ” no ” at some point. After all, you are negotiating with someone with a different opinion than yours. So when you go into your negotiation expecting to hear ‘No’ to something you propose, resolve to work things out. That way, you are in a much better frame of mind to move past ‘No.’

The goal at this point is to gain information rather than press for an agreement. When pushing against a No answer, it risks breaking down the progress made to that point.

The more open-ended questions you ask at this point, the less defensive or hostile the opposite party will be.

I will soon touch on overcoming a ‘No’ in a separate article. In the meantime, if you want to discuss what you’ve read here or in one of my other articles, you can reach us here and here.

Food for Thought: “When you’re attacked in a negotiation, pause and avoid angry emotional reactions. Instead, ask your counterpart a calibrated question.” (Kerry Patterson)

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