Negotiate Better

Joel Lazer, FCPA, FCA, CIRPLeadership, Merger and Acquisition, Misc

Originally published on April 13, 2006

Negotiating is something we all do. We start negotiating as children. All children negotiate bed times, what’s for dinner and whether they will eat it, and so on. As an adult we have a much broader range of negotiation partners. They can include relatives, friends, co-workers, employers or employees and strangers. Sometimes we get the assistance of professionals and sometimes we do our own negotiating.

Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything, has a piece of advice worth repeating here. Herb says, “Never negotiate with your children.” His belief is, you cannot win a negotiation with your own children and so don’t start.

There are many principles of negotiating, as well as many styles and tactics. My personal belief is, we are all better off if we can get to win/win solutions and look to increasing the pie as opposed to viewing the world as a zero sum game. Sometimes that is hard to accomplish, yet, like many difficult things, the reward is worth the effort.

Being empathetic is of utmost importance if you are to be a successful negotiator. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel for the other side. The ability to see and understand the other side’s issues, interests and hot buttons will allow you to navigate the unknown with surprising ease. It is relatively easy to see our side; we live it. It’s also important to differentiate your position from your interest. A position is a stance you take on a particular issue believing it will get you what you want or satisfy your interest. Your interest is what you want which may be satisfied by your position or some other position you may not have considered.

There it is. If you can determine the other party’s interest and satisfy it with a position that is not in conflict with your interest, you have the makings of a successfully negotiated deal. In order to determine the other party’s interest you must be able to see where they are coming from, what might be acceptable to them, and what cannot be negotiated.

We all pay attention to the big items. To get their interest, pay attention to the little things. Inquire about what they tell you. Ensure there is no uncertainty. When they say they need a particular position ask them to explain why. Do it so you can understand where they are coming from. You must question without being judgemental and without disagreeing with their position. They believe they have valid reasons and your disagreement on that will only spread your positions farther apart. Even when you think you know their interest, keep enquiring. Do this to ensure you have got it right and to determine of there is a secondary or tertiary interest that might come into play. After you have the interests, test out some solutions that will satisfy your interest as well. Remember your interest, too, may be satisfied with a position you had not previously considered.

My favourite negotiation exercise is the one where both parties need an orange and there is only one. Each side takes the position that they need the orange. It turns out that one needs all the juice and the other needs all of the peel. It is rather easy to resolve once the interest of each is discovered. The exercise is enlightening.

If I can assist with any of your negotiations or you would like to discuss theory I would be glad to hear from you.