(This is a repost from Filip’s original blog)
In my upcoming book I discuss the idea that every negotiation (and interaction!) we have is actually made up of multiple parallel negotiations.
When I ask you ”What was that last negotiation about?”, the answer you give me will probably be what we call the formal topic of the negotiation. Now, if this were the only negotiation we needed to pay attention to then life would be very easy.
But human interaction is much more complex than that. Our formal topic will be polluted by a range of covert negotiations (or competitions!) about status, perceptions, intentions, understanding, trust, rapport, fairness, values, beliefs, and so on.
So let’s today look at one of these; the status negotiation. We all want status and recognition. But we make two flawed assumptions that often make the status negotiation impossible to resolve. One assumption is that we should have most status. The other is that we assume there is only one source of status.
The pattern can look something like this:
- Person A: “I have 20 years experience in this area, so I know what I’m talking about.” (i.e.”I’m right because of my status!” )
- Person B: “Well I have education, so I understand this in much more detail than a simple practitioner.”
- Person C: “I have the most senior title, so the organisation has decided that my view is most important.”
- Person D: “Yes, but I’m much older than all of you, and have life experience that you can’t begin understand.”
- Person E: “You are all wrong. I’m clearly the most intelligent person in the room, so my view is obviously the most important.”
- Persons A, B, C, D in unison: “No, I’m the most intelligent person in the room!”
Do our negotiations really look like this? YES… they do! But not on the surface. All of this goes on behind the scenes. Still, the results are readily visible, and with focused attention we can pick up on the signals in time.
Each party that does not feel that their status is acknowledged will resent the others. Left unresolved, this unmet need will predictably pollute the rest of the negotiation or interaction. It is not uncommon for a failed status negotiation to cause an otherwise successful negotiation to derail.
So what can we do instead? How about we deal with those flawed assumptions! Let’s first appreciate that there are countless sources of status. The more sources we have, the more flexibility we have to let the other party also get their status needs met. We need to take responsibility for this. Because if we put all our eggs in one basket and only rely on a single source of status (e.g. our title or rank) then our ego will do everything it can to protect that source of status. And we already know that having a sensitive ego is incompatible with being a skilled influencer or negotiator.
Let’s also acknowledge that the goal is not to feel appreciated at the expense of the other party. Rather the goal is to feel sufficiently appreciated. There is no competition here, so stop competing!
Let’s try this out:
“So you (Person B) have a PhD? Fantastic! I’m sure that your education together with my (Person A) experience in this area will enable us to arrive at even better outcomes than those we could each have achieved individually!”
Now wasn’t that the easiest thing in the world…?