Power and prevention in negotiation

(This is a repost from Filip’s original blog)

One of the beautiful things with negotiation and influence is that many insights are transferrable and just as applicable in commercial, hostage, and romantic relationship negotiations. And while professional negotiators get excited about the complex, high stakes, international and crisis negotiations, most of us relate better to examples of everyday negotiations. So let me share one.

At the time of posting this entry in the blog, I have connected with 51 negotiators (professional and academics) worldwide. Recently one of the very experienced old school negotiators shared the following tip with me on the importance of balancing power in negotiations.

As an example, when you go to the dentist, the first thing you need to do is to grab him by the ba**s, and then calmly say: “We won’t hurt each other, will we?”

Power negotiation is certainly a valid approach to negotiation, and it is very common in business today. But for some reason it doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it is because my dentist is a woman. Or perhaps it is because my dentist is such a kind and caring individual and I know she has my wellbeing in mind?

There is also something else. If we simply frame the negotiation around how much pain will be associated with fixing our ailing tooth, then we don’t actually have much scope to manoeuvre in the negotiation. At one extreme tooth will be fixed and it will be painful. At the other extreme the tooth won’t be fixed. No win/win outcome in sight.

But if we instead take a systems view of the negotiation, then we realize our tooth is aching because we haven’t taken care of it properly. The current situation was thus completely avoidable (i.e. preventable)! By instead viewing our dentist as a collaborator, she can help us ensure that our teeth stay healthy, and every visit will be short and painless.

So at the end of today’s visit I asked her the same question I ask after every visit: “From what you’ve seen today, what are the two specific things that you recommend I change (e.g. diet, behaviour) to ensure that we continue having these pain free visits every 6 months?”

Prevention is much cheaper, easier, more powerful and less painul than intervention. It is also one of the reasons why “professional negotiator”, from one perspective, is one of the most unrewarding jobs on the planet ☺ If we do our job well then the problems never occur, and people don’t realize the disaster we saved them from.

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