Newsletter – Negotiation: Practical Magic

Negotiation: Practical Magic

Have you chosen a theme for the New Year? A theme can help you stay focused on an area that is important to you. Rather than lurching fitfully through 2004 with a patchwork of good intentions, your organizing theme will guide you in creating and interpreting the experiences of 2004.

A theme can be anything. Pick one. (I can just imagine some of you worry warts out there fretting that you might pick a theme that is wrong. IMPOSSIBLE! There are no right or wrong answers, so for crying out loud, just choose one that YOU like! It’s not like you are choosing wallpaper for your dining room, or some other choice with gawd-awful possible long-term consequences!)

My theme for 2004 is “Practical Magic”. What does this mean? I don’t know yet, however I plan to find out as the year unfolds. “Practical Magic” is a phrase that I heard at Starbuck’s that resonated with me, and I plan to view 2004 through the lens of these 2 intriguing words. For example, today I realized that one of the most practical pieces of magic that plopped into my life in 2003 was negotiating to get what I want. In the past I’ve tried different strategies, like whining, complaining, hinting, waiting, trying to get people to read my mind, wishing and hoping. I was less than thrilled with the outcomes. Negotiating for what I want seems to yield the best results of any strategy I have tried so far.

We all negotiate on a daily basis, however we don’t usually call it that. I was delighted to find that I had over 40 years of negotiating experience. We do it all the time. You may be trying to get someone at work to change a behavior that is driving you nuts, or agreeing on deliverable dates for an important project, or simply trying to get your kid to stop watching so much TV. In their famous book “Getting to Yes”. (This is one of THE best books I have ever read!), Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Business School Negotiation Project describe negotiation as nothing more than “communicating back and forth for the purpose of reaching a shared decision.” Without communication, there is no negotiation. Unfortunately, we don’t always notice when we are in a negotiation. If we did we’d whip out our well-thumbed copy of “Getting to Yes” and put into practice some practical tips to “get the other guy to have our way”, dramatically increasing our chances of achieving our goals. Noticing when we are negotiating is the first challenge. HINT: Anytime you are trying to get someone else to do something you are negotiating.

Here is some down-to-earth negotiating wisdom that I picked up while preparing for and teaching negotiations classes for the Santa Clara Valley Water District last year. I hope this helps you to achieve your goals for 2004. It’s common sense, of course, which continues to be amazingly rare in both the professional and personal world.

The number one reason that people don’t achieve their goals is that they don’t know what they are. Yes, it’s simple and it’s true. If you ask most people “If I agreed to give you EXACTLY what you want right now, what would it be?” they will stare at you blankly, or mutter something feeble like “more wishes.” Hey, they couldn’t even use ONE magic wish effectively, why should they get MORE??!!

Number 1 negotiating tip is to know what you want. Better yet, write it down. This makes it significantly more likely that you will attain your goals, and only 4% of people will bother to do it.

Try these 4 skills of highly effective negotiators:

PEOPLE: Separate the People from the Problem. Negotiation is communication, and the same rules apply here as in any effective communication. Don’t attack the other person, and don’t sit smugly convinced of the “rightness” of your views. People frequently over-estimate the merits of their own perspectives. Even professionals who are attempting to remain entirely objective routinely introduce 30% errors into the estimates involved in their negotiations, always in their favor, of course! Stay focused on jointly solving the problem.

INTERESTS: Focus on Interests not Positions. Most people fall immediately into positional bargaining when involved in a negotiation. You want to pay $500K for the house (It’s a fixer-upper at that price, of course!), the owner wants to get $600K. Those are your positions, and rarely do people take the time to dig beneath the surface to discover the interests behind these positional stances. What ensues is often no more creative than offering to “split the difference”, leaving untold possibilities undiscovered. Looking behind positions to the interests motivating them can reveal a world of possibilities.

OPTIONS: Generate Options for Mutual Gain before Choosing. One of the 4 biggest mistakes people make is to accept the first idea that comes along. This is rarely the best idea, by the way. This is kind of like going into an ice cream store that only sells chocolate ice cream and trying to make up your mind whether to choose chocolate or chocolate. If you really want to expand what’s possible insist on generating at least 2 or 3 good ideas before choosing among them.

The other 3 biggest mistakes people make in generating options are:

1. Searching for a single best solution – Believing there is some ideal out there can stop us from adopting a “good enough” solution. Perfection is not always required, nor desired. The great is the enemy of the good enough. Searching for the single best solution is a great way to get stuck.

2. Assuming a fixed pie – zero-sum game. Make the pie BIGGER before dividing it! There are often more creative possibilities, and digging into interests is a great way to discover what they might be. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you take the blinders off and ask “How could we increase the benefit for everyone involved?” This helps counteract our natural human tendency to want to “win”, and do better than the other guy, even if we both do worse than we might have with a more creative solution.

3. Thinking that solving the other person’s problem is THEIR problem. If you want the other person to join you in seeking a solution that meets YOUR needs, you must take a sincere interest in meeting THEIR needs as well. One-sided negotiations can quickly deteriorate into a contest of wills and the rather uncreative positional bargaining described above.

DECIDE: Decide based on Objective Criteria. Now that you have choices, how will you choose? I often ask people who are facing a tough decision to list the decision criteria they will use. I am amazed at how difficult it can be to articulate the basis upon which we make even weighty decisions. Try it on your next big decision. Just knowing how you will decide in itself can provide more creative insights into the situation that you are working to resolve.

Ideally, the result of a successful negotiation, whether formal or informal, is a wise outcome arrived at efficiently and amicably. Not everything can or should be negotiated. If you are being chased by a bear I wouldn’t advise you to stop on the trail and attempt some joint-problem solving with Mr. Grizzly. However when negotiation IS appropriate these bits of wisdom from “Getting to Yes” can help you to get a lot more of what you truly want this year.

Write me about your insights on negotiating to get what you want. I’d love to hear your stories!

May your 2004 be filled with practical magic!

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