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Is There a Negotiator in Your Closet?
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
—SHAKESPEARE, JULIUS CAESAR
Conflict seems to be part of the human condition. Regardless of what the issue is, we will find a way to fight over it. In spite of this tendency, human beings have always tried to get along. What is the greatest invention in history: Fire? The wheel? E = mc2? In my view, it is the art of negotiation. Negotiation is about getting along.
Let me give you my definition of negotiation:
Negotiation is the process of overcoming obstacles in order to reach agreement.
What is the primary obstacle? The difference between your position and my position. Human beings invented negotiation to stop ourselves from physically harming each other (or worse) when our respective positions appear to be incompatible. The history of conflict resolution from the last ice age to the present suggests that without the art of negotiation, the human population would be significantly smaller.
The objective of negotiating is to reach agreement. So in one sense, a successful negotiation is one that culminates in agreement. There are times, however, as we will see, when the lack of agreement—an impasse or deadlock—can signal a successful outcome; that is, if we determine that, in this particular instance, an agreement is not in our best interest.
All things considered, I prefer to think of a successful negotiation as one in which at least one of the parties is satisfied with the outcome. Satisfaction is the key element in every successful negotiation. In a traditional adversarial negotiation, such as the sale of a house, the negotiation is successful if you are satisfied. In a cooperative (win-win) negotiation, success occurs when both parties are satisfied.
One point of clarification here. Satisfaction means that you get what you need, not necessarily what you want. What you need and what you want are not always the same thing. You need a car to get to work. You want a Lexus or a Mercedes, but your budget won't stretch that far. A Honda will do the job. So your need is met and you can be satisfied with a Honda.
There is also an important difference between your need and your stated position. Your need is what you must get in order to solve a problem. Your position, on the other hand, is what you say you want. Occasionally, a negotiator may put forth a position that asks for more than she truly needs. Satisfaction occurs when the need is met, not when a position is satisfied. In a negotiation, instead of being sidetracked by positions, it is essential to focus on the other negotiator's needs.
PROFILE OF A NEGOTIATOR
I believe the kind of negotiation we should strive for is one in which both parties achieve satisfaction. What kind of negotiator is able to make this happen? Can we create a profile for the successful negotiator?
Below are the ten traits I’ve found that successful negotiators tend to have. How many of them do you share?
1. Negotiation Consciousness
We’ve all heard the phrase “Everything is negotiable.” In the world of negotiation, my world, that is literally true. Negotiation consciousness is what I call the mind-set of people who make deals. A person who has high negotiation consciousness tends to be assertive in stating what he wants and challenges everything. And that means everything. You cannot achieve what you want in a negotiation if you are unwilling to challenge the other person’s position.
The classic example of low negotiation consciousness is often seen in the area of contract negotiations. Even the most experienced buyers and sellers are intimidated by contract clauses. The majority of contracts are written by attorneys in complex legal language that most people are afraid to challenge. A negotiator with high negotiation consciousness is not scared to challenge contract clauses, even if she does not completely understand the legal jargon.
In one eye–opening instance, I was hired as a speaker for a large corporation. The contract they wanted me to sign included a clause that required me to take out millions of dollars in liability insurance. I immediately pointed out to my client that I was merely the guest speaker, and since the facilities were under the sole control of the client, there was no earthly reason for me to be held liable for any injuries that might occur as I gave my speech.
“I’m sorry,” replied my client. “It is company policy. I don't have the authority to change it.”
I guess they expected me to concede and let the issue die. Instead, I asked to speak to the head of the contracts department, who gave me the same speech. “It’s our policy, blah, blah, blah.” Still, I would not back down. I pursued the issue all the way to the legal department at the company’s headquarters in another state. When I explained the problem to their head lawyer, she agreed with me.
“This obviously does not apply to you,” she said. “Go ahead and strike the clause from the contract.”
Without negotiation consciousness, I would have been at the mercy of a piece of paper.
A client of mine recently admitted to having low negotiation consciousness.
“I just don’t like to be assertive,” she said.
It seems she had called her accountant and asked a short, simple question. Although the call lasted only ten minutes, she soon received a bill for $250. When she called about the bill, her accountant said, “My policy is to charge $250 for all phone calls.”
“But you’ve been my accountant for ten years,” said my client, “and in all that time, you’ve never charged me for phone calls.”
“It's a new policy,” he replied.
My client was too intimidated to argue. “How can I overcome my passivity?” she asked me.
“Being aware of your low negotiation consciousness is the first step,” I replied. “Now you must compensate for your weakness in this area by making a special effort to be assertive.”
Undoubtedly, people had been taking advantage of this accountant by engaging him in long phone conversations and expecting that they would not be charged. So I advised my client: “Tell him that you can understand why he was upset, but that (a) you didn't know his policy had changed, (b) your call was only ten minutes, and (c) you will be happy to comply with his policy with respect to future calls.”
“Do you think I can really change my character?” my client wondered.
“It is not about changing your character,” I explained. “It is about changing your behavior. You simply need to be more willing to challenge what other people tell you.”
Challenging means not taking things at face value. Instead of blindly accepting other people's assumptions, you have to be able to think for yourself.
This applies when you are buying a new car. Don’t just accept the sticker price; instead, use it as the starting point for your negotiation.
And it applies when your accountant bills you $250 for a ten-minute phone call.
When a negotiator is confronted with a contrary point of view, his attitude is, “That's your opinion. Here's mine.” Having the guts to speak up is called assertiveness. Being assertive means asking for what you want and refusing to take “no” for an answer. Here are my Assertiveness Training Tips that may help you change your behavior:
a. Ask. If you don't ask, you won't get your needs met. Pay attention to the way that children ask for things. They are more aware than adults of the connection between needs and survival. Adults will often feel guilty about asking for the things they need. There are three conditions under which I believe it is critical that you stand up for what you want:
• When the stakes are high. If it is a matter of great importance, be persistent.
• When the amount of money involved is more than you want to lose.
• When what you are asking for is simply fair and the other person's position is unreasonable, or does not make sense.
b. Eliminate negative self-talk. Our minds are full of self–doubt that limits our ability to be assertive, by telling us what we can’t do, what we’re not supposed to want. The antidote to such self–doubt is self–awareness. Each time you are aware of a negative thought, replace it with a positive one. If you hear yourself saying, “They'll never say yes,” try substituting, “If I ask for what I want, I have a good chance of getting it.” The more aware you are of your negative thoughts, the easier it will be to replace them with positive ones.
c. Practice expressing your feelings without anxiety or anger. When you fail to express your legitimate feelings, you are relinquishing your power to the other person. Let people know what you want in a nonthreatening way by practicing “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You shouldn't do that,” try substituting, “I don't feel comfortable when you do that.” When you use an “I” statement, you are taking responsibility for your feelings as opposed to attacking the other person.
d. Learn to say NO. People overstep our boundaries all the time. They try to bully us into giving them what they want. But others can’t bully or intimidate you if you are comfortable saying NO. Set limits and boundaries, and don't allow other people to cross them. If you are the kind of person who typically says YES as a first response, you can fight that urge by giving yourself time before you respond. Try saying, “Let me get back to you on that” instead of saying yes automatically.
Remember, there is a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. You are being assertive when you take care of your own interests while maintaining respect for the interests of others. When you pursue your own interests without regard for other people, you are aggressive. I am promoting assertiveness, not aggression, in your relationships with others.
Sadly, our culture is full of people who don't know how to listen. Last week I experienced some difficulty in getting my car to start, so I took it to the automobile dealer. “When I turn the key in the ignition, it starts to turn over and then stops,”I told the service manager. They “fixed” it. A few days later the problem reoccurred. I took the car to the dealer again. It seems that the service manager had written on the service ticket, “Funny noise when starting.” He had not paid attention to what I said. I never mentioned a funny noise. As a result, the service technician had not done the job correctly, and the car had to be serviced again to address the actual problem. Had the manager listened correctly the first time, a return visit would have been unnecessary. This kind of situation happens all the time. Most people are terrible listeners. Imagine how much this kind of sloppy behavior costs businesses everywhere.
After negotiation consciousness, the most important trait of successful negotiators is the ability to listen. Among the benefits of listening are:
• You will learn the other negotiator’s needs and pressures.
• You will discover where your own strength lies.
• The person you are negotiating with will like you and want to help you. Human beings respond positively to other human beings who listen.
• You will discover how to get your needs met.
Week Two of Negotiation Boot Camp is devoted to the ABCs of listening.
3. The Ability to Ask Good Questions
Good negotiators are like detectives. What do detectives do? They ask questions. The service manager at my car dealership should have asked, “Does your car make a noise when you start the engine?” Asking questions goes hand in hand with listening. By asking the right questions and then listening to the answers, you can find out what is driving the other side of the negotiation.
4. High Aspirations
After conducting Negotiation Boot Camp seminars for hundreds of corporate clients and sales organizations, I am convinced of this fact: Salespeople who are able to sell consistently at higher prices genuinely believe in the value of what they are selling. They know their product is superior and they expect a higher reward for it. A seller with high negotiation consciousness and high aspirations will ignore a buyer's attempts to lowball. In one instance, as I described earlier, we were able to nearly double the average sales price at a computer software company by teaching the sales force to maintain high aspirations by selling the value—not the price—of their software product.
The lesson is clear: Negotiators who have high aspirations do better. Successful negotiators are optimists. They expect to succeed. In a negotiation, your level of expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This rule applies not only to sellers, but to buyers as well. In my Negotiation Boot Camp seminars, I run a series of role–playing exercises. In one, the group is divided into buyers and sellers. The buyers are asked, “What is the most you are willing to pay, under pressure, for the seller's product or service?” The sellers are asked, “What is the least you will accept, under pressure, from the buyer for your product or service?” A clear correlation exists between the expectations of the negotiators and what they are able to achieve in the negotiation that follows. Buyers who aim high—their intention is to pay less—generally pay less than the average buyer in the group. Sellers who aim high—their intention is to sell at higher prices—generally sell at higher prices than the average seller.
Impatience is the American disease. As we are inundated with more and more information, we get more and more impatient. The MTV generation just wants to get its information as quickly as possible. In negotiation, this can be fatal. There are two reasons why you should take your time:
1. Whoever is more patient is in the driver’s seat. Being patient will force the other side to give in as their anxiety rises.
2. If you slow down, you'll make fewer mistakes.
The next time you buy a new car, try spending some time in the showroom talking with the salesperson. Then go home and process the information you received. Come back a few days later and repeat the process. If the salesperson has not made quota, or if the dealership needs the sale, you will probably receive a more generous offer.
Anyone who has negotiated in Asia, the Middle East, or South America will tell you that people in these cultures look at time differently than we do in North America and Europe. During an extended trip to South America, at first I was frustrated at how long it took to get anything done. It angered me, for example, that dinner in my hotel took two hours. Eventually, though, I came to relish these long dinners and realize that their way of eating is a healthier way. The dinners prepared me for the South American style of negotiation, which, in stark contrast to the brisk American approach, allows plenty of time for the parties to get to know and trust each other. And I began to appreciate that the more time we take in negotiation, the fewer mistakes we are likely to make.
There is an old saying, “Marry in haste, repent in leisure.” The same is true of negotiation. “Negotiate in haste, repent in leisure.”