Negotiation as a concept as a way of life is a part of our daily lives. What is Negotiation to you? To me it is a conversation directed at reaching a consensus or an agreement. We negotiate get the best of life, be it a better salary, discounts or sometimes even an agreement to understand our thought process. Although, this is an art we have engaged in since our childhood, very few have been able to uncover the right strategy to ensure that the process creates wise agreements. In the authors' words, a wise agreement is an agreement "that meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable, and takes community interests into account." Keeping in consideration that how improbable it is for two or more individuals with contrasting thought processes and arguments would come to this level of an agreement, it is critical that we assess and treat each factor that will contribute to broken or unreasonable negotiations.
Unfortunately, there is a growing misconception that efficient negotiations are about stalling, and a great negotiator is one who can do that until the other party gives up. Another myth about efficient negotiation is that a winner is one who can force his views as much as one can. Both the above thought processes may yield short term results. In a typical negotiation, each party will hold a position and the following conversations, arguments… counter arguments will be focussed around sustaining these positions trying to destabilise the other party to give up their positions. It has been observed, parties do end up taking extreme positions so that the resulting agreement falls within a desirable range. Such positions highlight that the intention of the position may be to blind the other party to trick the other to find a false common ground that is disadvantageous to the other party.
Another aspect of positional negotiations is that in most cases each side of the divide explore two distinct ways of imposing their positions. One party can rest or rely on hard bargaining that will involve aggression, fear, or ire against the opposing party that may adopt soft positional bargaining, meaning that the possibility of that individual reaching a compromise quickly is higher as they would like to avoid tension and conflict. Both methods are like two sides of a coin, but both are inefficient frameworks. There is a third form of negotiations which is called 'Principled Negotiation', it finds that thin line between the two. This form separates the argument from the people, it searches for options that mutually appeal to both parties, not obsessing positions but finding reason.
Principal negotiation works only when the parties choose to see beyond their individual emotions or beliefs. You must understand that there is no need for negotiations if your view of how the world works is the standard that should guide everyone's motives. People negotiate because they need to find common ground from varying thought processes and vantage points until one single points which incorporates the beliefs of both conflicting parties is arrived at. Hence, the authors list three components of negotiations that could either cripple the process or fast-track and implement wise agreements.
The first is perception. Perceptions, as mentioned earlier, are distinct even when two people have access to the same information. It comes from a place where biases and information filtering mechanisms dominate. Therefore, negotiations would yield good results only if you put yourself in the shoes of the other negotiator. Ascertain their perception, respect it, understand it, and acknowledge it. Blame game is to be avoided as that does nothing but compounding issues by feeding one's fear whilst distorting the decision-making process.
The second component is emotions. Emotion is a key contributor to either the negotiation being successful or a failure. Keeping the same in mind, it is important to identify the role that emotion has played in the problem. Verify that an attack on your identity is not inducing a blind spot. Likewise, do some soul searching and ensure that your anger is not a masking agent for your true emotions. Similarly, try to analyse and understand the emotions of the other person. Whilst handling the other person's emotion, you should allow the other person to express their own emotions and be mindful not to downplay them. The probability of the emotions rushing to the surface is extremely high if this happens – allow it to play its' time and control your reactions to the outburst of emotion.
The framework of Positional Negotiation is flawed since it focuses on the position vs. the motives. Let us take an example of two parties taking different positions and yet share common interests. Similarly, an individual can agree with your position and yet, have contrasting interests. Hence you need to know the "whys" motivating the other person's position. Also, try to identify the "why not" that is stopping him from reaching an agreement, fully knowing that the positions may have been initiated by multiple interests. One should understand that the most compelling concerns are basic needs like autonomy, respect, recognition, economic wellbeing, acceptance, and security.
Therefore, it is advantageous to communicate your concerns as explicitly as you can. Before you make known your position, you should start the negotiation by explaining your motives. This approach will keep the other person's attention fixated on your underlying interests, and not your position leading to the invention of options. As easy as this sounds, it entails a level of creativity that fickle reasoning will not generate. Hence, you should do thought showering with people that are on your side of the divide, and those that are on the opposing side (this can be tricky). You could be divulging information that might undermine your bargaining power, or that could falsely lead the other person to believe that you could accept a particular settlement term. It would be great if you could look at the arguments from the perspective of the experts and not to limit yourself to the obvious viable solution. To do this both or all parties need to be a part of the decision-making process.
The well-crafted arguments, mentioning about the effectiveness of standards, principles, and interests, become redundant when there is an absence in the balance of power between the parties. With one having less to lose, you must be careful so that you are not consciously pushing them to exit the process of negotiation which will be harmful to the process and you. Irrespective of how powerful or imposing the other party is, one can use two diffusing or destabilizing tools to ensure that you are not at the mercy of that individual. One way is to set the worst possible outcome that is acceptable to you with this you will resist the temptation to accept a mediocre offer. Be mindful that your bottom line does not become a rigid framework, as it would blind you to the other opportunities.
Bearing this in mind, the authors conceptualised this tool called the BATNA — the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. This tool simply defines the alternatives you have when the negotiation breaks off. Once you carefully formulate a BATNA, the other person who earlier seemed imposing will automatically lose a substantive amount of power on the outcome of the negotiation. Similarly, you need to be adaptable when the other party is not playing the field as you are. If this is the situation that you find yourself in, then you practice what the authors call the Negotiation Jujitsu. This practice is not about attack but deflection, look beyond their apparent rigidness, analyse it, and conclude on potential interests that could fuel their hard-positional bargaining.
One way to counter this, you should be able to embrace criticisms, use them to create new thought processes, idea and try to diffuse their hostility by asking them for their thoughts. One way to do this is to replace your statements with questions. Momentary silence and strategic pauses when under attack will also help you to gather your thoughts and not be impulsive.
It is one thing for a negotiator to dig in his position just to have the last say, it is another when he deploys various psychological tricks that could propel you to want to end the negotiation quickly or to give up your leverage. Therefore, you must identify the numerous tricks the other person might use on you and look for ways to sidestep them. Once you discover that a negotiator is using dubious means to trick you into reaching a concession, you should renegotiate the rules of the game. Let them know that you are aware of their strategy.
Remember a negotiation does not have to be painful or exhaustive that could cause a breakdown of communication, or that could leave you feeling bitter and short-changed... This move would ensure that the present negotiation does not have negative effects on future ones.
Views are personal only.
(Author is Chief Executive Officer at Lexicon Management Institute of Leadership & Excellence)