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How to Negotiate Effectively So Everyone Wins

By Bo Smith

How to Negotiate Effectively So Everyone Wins

Two men are quarreling in a library. One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three-quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both.

Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: “To get some fresh air.” She asks the other why he wants it closed: ”To avoid the draft.” After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

– From Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, and Wilson Learning’s, Negotiating To Yes workshop

How often have you come across a dilemma like the library story? For many of us, it happens a lot. More and more occasions today require negotiation. People want to participate in decisions that affect them, and don’t want to be dictated to.

At Strategic Enhancement Group, we’ve learned the answer to dilemmas like this is Principled Negotiation. Pioneered by Dr. William Ury who co-founded Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation, Ury has used this technique for decades to mediate global business and political conflicts. He is a consultant to the White House’s Crisis Management Center. He co-authored the world’s best-selling book on negotiation, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, and has partnered with Wilson Learning and Strategic Enhancement Group for 29 years.

Negotiation is defined as back-and-forth communication to reach agreement, when some interests are shared and some are opposed. When we think of negotiating, most people think of it as bargaining, where the more one side wins, the more the other loses. But Principled Negotiation is different from bargaining. It decides issues on their merits, rather than through a haggling process. It tries to find ways to expand the pie by creating options that will satisfy both sides’ interests. You jointly address the problem, creating new value so both sides win. As the book Getting To Yes describes, it strives to “negotiate an agreement amicably, without giving in.”

Some people think there are really only two ways to negotiate, soft or hard, or something in between. The soft negotiator tries to avoid conflict and is readily open to making concessions, but in the interest of an amicable agreement sometimes is taken advantage of. The hard negotiator may see negotiation as a war of wills, espousing extreme positions and then holding out in the hope of wearing down the counterpart. This can exhaust those concerned, damage relationships and jeopardize future business. Enter the third method, Principled Negotiation, which is neither soft nor hard, but rather both soft and hard. It is hard on the merits, but soft on people. There are no tricks or posturing.

In Principled Negotiation, the negotiator has three goals: satisfy the interests of both parties, get to Yes faster by following an efficient process, and strengthen the relationship. If you negotiate respectfully, with courtesy and understanding, carefully listening to your counterpart, it really can be possible to make the relationship stronger in spite of your different positions.

With Principled Negotiation, you start with the people. It’s important to separate the people from the problem, to prevent people issues from getting in the way of a successful negotiation. That doesn’t mean you disregard your counterparts. Far from it. After all, as Ury writes, “negotiators are people first.” But it does mean you try to create an environment where people issues are an aid to negotiation rather than a barrier, and positive, cooperative problem-solving can occur. Plan to take the time to prepare in advance by learning about your counterparts, stakeholders and their issues. Reach out before negotiating and see if you can meet informally to get to know them. After all, the more quickly you develop a relationship, the easier negotiation should go.

Another essential element in Principled Negotiation involves exploring issues, where you focus on interests, not positions. This helps you to understand why the other party wants something – the reasons behind the demands. The Why is really important, and to get there you conduct discovery by asking questions. That’s what the librarian in our story did. She asked questions to find out Why the library patrons wanted what they wanted, listened intently and took a brief time to reflect on their interests. She then was able to come up with a solution that satisfied both by expanding the pie with a solution no one had considered.

So when you’re negotiating, brainstorm with your counterpart to come up with as many interests and options as possible to expand the pie of possibilities. Try not to discount any idea prematurely, as that could stifle creativity. Avoid obstacles such as thinking that there is just one answer, as there likely are a number of them. Ask a “Magic Wand” question, such as ”If you could do anything you want, what do you think would be the best solution?” At the end, ask a Catch-All question like “Is there anything I’m forgetting that we should consider.” In this way you’ll be co-creating a solution where your counterpart will likely feel she or he has some ownership.

And then you’d better be prepared to have a BATNA. What’s BATNA? Well, this article is just the tip of the iceberg.

Published: October 27, 2021

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Bo Smith

Performance Consultant

Before joining Strategic Enhancement Group, Bo had a successful 40-year career as a salesperson, sales manager and publisher, including six years with the National Newspaper Association. He currently handles sales and management for SEG’s Public Seminars. The son of a Marine and graduate of the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Government, he has been passionate about helping businesses thrive throughout his career. He is active in his church and a long-time volunteer in the community.

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