Eyes on the prize

The blog post on the video about reverend Wade Watts vs the KKK turned out to be very popular. So let us here help the reader identify another key behaviour that helped the reverend achieve such an inspiring outcome. The behaviour? Remaining constructive.

We negotiate to get what we want. But there are many reasons for why we consistently fail:

  • Often we don’t have a good understanding of what we really want (our interests or needs).
  • Often we set an outcome that on the face of it looks good to us, but we haven’t fully understood all the negative reactions, and unintended consequences of that outcome.
  • Often we set a goal for what we want that is completely incompatible with what the other party wants, so they will resist us every step of the way instead of working with us.
  • Often we lack the creativity or tools to figure out exactly how to reach that desired outcome.

And lastly – we often lose track of our goal along the way. In particular, when things don’t go our way we can get caught up in:

  • A passive and unproductive state of wallowing in painful feelings of regret, resentment, hurt, uncertainty or hopelessness.
  • An active state of pursuing unconstructive goals such as identifying fault, placing blame, or getting even with those person(s) we consider to be obstacle(s) to progress.

As effective negotiators we instead consistently keep our eyes on the prize. We avoid getting caught up in our own emotions. We seek to stay rational, proactive and constructive. Every step, action or behaviour we take is the best step towards the desired outcome.

It doesn’t matter if we just failed, if someone let us down, or if we experienced bad news, bad luck or negative surprises. We consistently pay attention to the desired outcome, and then we make sure that our next step is one that is most likely to move us closer to that outcome.

Or as it is frequently referred to in negotiation circles: “Don’t get mad… don’t get even… get what you want!”

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Fear in intractable negotiations

In the book we briefly refer to a couple of intractable negotiations (e.g. abortion, climate change, gun control). The purpose is not to take a stand on the issues (we let others do that), but rather to illustrate what techniques might be applied to move both polarised parties in each of these negotiations towards agreement.

One of the techniques described in the book is chunking, where we break a large issue into smaller pieces (see it applied to gun control in this earlier post). This process often results in several pieces that parties find trivial to agree on. This enables progress, and fewer issues remain to be resolved. Whether or not this process results in agreement on all issues is immaterial. The point is that we are much better off than before, when we were deadlocked arguing “yes” or “no” for the giant topic of gun control.

Consistent with the technique of chunking, the Obama administration yesterday announced measures aimed at limiting access to firearms for the mentally ill. Agreement on this piece would benefit everyone and would not negatively affect gun advocates in any material way. Logically we might then expect agreement on the issue.

But we haven’t yet accounted for another important element; fear. Specifically fear of the slippery slope. Gun advocates may fear that agreeing on this option now somehow sets a process in motion that could result in them losing all rights to guns in the future. In other words, that agreeing to anything might mean they have to agree to everything. And when fear is an element in the negotiation, it often trumps everything else.

As negotiators, when we identify fear we also seek to address it. While for the affected person fear is merely a feeling, negotiators know that fear is caused by unmet needs. Often the unmet need is the perceived lack of certainty. People will fear the worst-case scenario because they don’t perceive adequate assurances that the worst-case scenario won’t happen.

So that’s one additional thing that gun advocates need here; assurances that their perceived worst-case scenario won’t happen.