Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't Put Emotion in Motion

Difficult negotiators often bring a lot of emotion to the table: bluster; frustration; accusations. Such behavior can make discussions inefficient and challenging (though sometimes quite entertaining). The last thing we want is for our behavior to produce more negative emotional activity.

But we often unwittingly do exactly that by not considering how our actions might impact the five core emotional concerns that drive building relationships with the other party: Affiliation, Appreciation, Autonomy, Status and Role. For example, when we act in a way that causes the other party to feel as though his/her Role or Authority has been challenged, we should be prepared for the emotional ramifications.

Suppose the other party assigns a new person, Tom, to be our sole channel of communication on all issues related to the negotiation. “What?” says Lou, the senior member of our team. “That doesn’t make any sense. I have worked directly with Kathleen for 15 years. I’m going to tell Kathleen how this will slow us down and cause us to miss the deadline.”

What are the potential outcomes if Lou goes to Kathleen to circumvent the process? One of two things will happen: Kathleen will either intervene on Lou’s behalf, or she won’t.

• If she does intervene, we will have leveraged our relationship and taken ourselves outside of the process. We also will have severely damaged our relationship with Tom by challenging his Authority and Role in the process.

• If she does not intervene, we are still in the process and we now must work with Tom in a potentially negative environment that we created.

So before we make a tactical decision to go over Tom’s head, and have Tom perceive we have no regard for his Authority and Role, we need to do some analysis about the process and the parties:

1. Who owns the process? Who set it up in the first place and how will he/she react to us challenging their Autonomy? What is the goal of having the process? Is that goal legitimate? If so, why are we challenging the process?

2. Who is Tom? What is his role in the process? Is he a decision-maker? A recommender? Or merely a facilitator? What is his Status at the company? How will our actions impact that Status if we, in effect, successfully neutralize him? Will we have to work with him again?

3. What are Kathleen’s interests in the process? If she owns the process and assigned Tom, how likely is she to remove him, or us, from the process? How good is our relationship with Kathleen? Is this the type of request that will improve our relationship with her? Or by being disruptive will we damage our Affiliation and Appreciation with Kathleen after 15 years of working together?

We can see that one tactical decision, made for what Lou believes are legitimate reasons, has many potential impacts on the five emotional concerns. A Deal Whisperer is always mindful of the potential emotional ramifications of words and actions and makes decisions that will improve the emotional health of the environment, not set the other side’s emotions in motion.

For more information on this topic, I recommend reading Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro (2005).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Change Your Attitude and You'll Change Your Relationship

Want to improve your relationship with a business partner? Try this exercise with your negotiation team:

List five adjectives to describe what it is like to work with the other party. Chances are you will produce a list that includes words such as stubborn, frustrating, confrontational, or one-sided. Then ask the team why, if those words are accurate, they would continue doing business with such a difficult party! Maybe they should focus on building a relationship with someone else.

The truth is that parties in a relationship, whether business or personal, will eventually develop negative perceptions of one another. The problem arises when those perceptions overshadow every interaction with the other party such that we wonder why we are together in the first place.

This is the challenge of “persistent perception”. We reach a point where we perceive another party in such a negative light that no matter what they say or do, we only recognize the negative behavior that is consistent with our perception.

Imagine, for example, you join a team and your colleagues tell you to go meet with Marty. “Good luck,” one says. “Marty is a jerk.” You now have a loaded perception seeking confirmation: when will Marty be a jerk to me? And, despite all of Marty’s efforts to be collaborative and positive, when he makes that one unreasonable request you rejoice internally: “JERK!” You return to your team and share with them Marty’s jerk-like behavior, largely dismissing all of his positive behavior.

Time for a change of attitude.

Put together a list of the adjectives you and your team believe the other party would use to describe working with you. Don’t be surprised if it is not terribly different from the one you created describing the other party. Now make a list of the adjectives you would like the other party to use to describe your relationship. Ask your team what needs to change in how they talk to and work with the other party to achieve those adjectives. If your goal is to get the other party to change their behavior, you must change yours. Model the behavior you desire from others. If your team refuses to change their behavior, how can they expect the other party to change theirs?

Change your attitude and you will change the relationship.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Do the Best Do?

The fact that someone plays golf makes them a golfer; not necessarily a good golfer. Likewise, the fact that someone negotiates as part of their job may make them a negotiator, but not necessarily a good negotiator.

Most people negotiate however they were taught (usually self-taught) and end up using tactics and techniques with which they are most comfortable. Their philosophy is to set an anchor or position and then make incremental concessions that drive to the middle. The result is some form of compromise, leaving both parties mutually dissatisfied.

Few companies focus on training their people to be great negotiators, opting instead to hire “experienced” negotiators without ever asking them how or where they were trained and what their negotiation philosophy is. Oh sure, they may have had a few classes and the term “win-win” was tossed around as an aspiration. But like most golfers, after a few lessons negotiators are set loose to play the game and never get any additional training.

What do the best do? Look at championship golfers. The best golfers in the world still take lessons and practice every day. So do the best negotiators.
To become a Deal Whisperer, you must always be tuning your skills, learning more about how to engage those with whom you negotiate and how to build trust. In sports, coaches speak of giving players more “touches” to stretch and improve their skills. These are opportunities to touch the ball, whether hitting, dribbling or kicking, to develop muscle memory and improve agility and proficiency. The same is true for a negotiator. The more you stretch, trying new techniques and strategies, and then try to apply them in your negotiations, the greater your mental and emotional abilities will grow.

Eventually, you will develop your negotiating “swing”. This is the ability to assess the negotiation environment, forecast the potential outcome, and then build a strategy to target an optimal outcome. This doesn’t mean you always will achieve that optimal outcome any more than the pros, with all their learning and practice, will always shoot under par. It does mean that you will proceed with greater confidence, clearer vision, and the ability to reach better decisions in your negotiations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Will You Do After You Get Punched in the Mouth?

"Everybody has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." Mike Tyson

Hard to believe a Mike Tyson quote would have relevance to a discussion of negotiation. Yet we often have moments in negotiations when we get "punched" or hit by a sudden act of the other party and we don't know what to do. All the planning and strategy goes out of our heads and we reel about, trying to figure out how to respond.

When we look back on the events that occurred, though, we discover that they should not have come as a shock; we just weren’t ready for it when it happened. Think of it in Mike Tyson’s context: shouldn’t a boxer have a plan that includes getting hit in the mouth? It is likely to happen! So when you prepare for your own meetings and negotiations, make a plan that includes what you will do after you get punched in the mouth.

A Deal Whisperer thinks of this as planning for surprises. Sounds counter-intuitive because a surprise, by its nature, is something we can’t plan for. With a few exceptions, however, there are not a lot of things that happen in negotiations that are real “surprises.” Walking into your house and having 50 people yell “Happy Birthday” is a surprise. You don’t usually expect to find 50 people in your house when you come home. You should expect in the course of trying to close a deal that the other party might say, “I’m withdrawing”; “Your price is too high”; “Your offer is too low”; or “I chose another supplier”.

So how do you plan for surprises? Walk through the “what if”s. After a milestone in your negotiation, take time to consider all the possible ways the other party might respond and what you will do next. If you just submitted a bid, the customer could 1. Reject the bid, 2. Offer a counter-proposal, 3. Not respond, 4. Accept the bid. There are variations on those possibilities but those are, in essence, the broad categories of outcomes to consider.

Make a plan for each. Write the plan down. And then discuss that plan with your team so everyone knows what the next steps will be. To become a Deal Whisperer, you always have to be so well prepared that a punch in the mouth is part of your plan.