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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Negotiator interrupted

“Hey… I just noticed something. Every time we interrupt you, you stop talking. That seems like a pretty smart thing to do. Is there an intentional strategy behind it?”

The business owner who had asked me for advice on negotiating the sale of his company was on the right track with his question. Throughout the meeting the owner and his two executives kept fighting for airtime. Not in a rude or aggressive manner. Rather they were simply keen to share their ideas and opinions, and in the process kept cutting each other off.

But whenever this happened while I was ta….. …… …… ……. ……… …… ….. …….. ……… ………. ……. ….. …….. …… …….. ……. …… ……… ………. ……….. ……….. ………. …….. ………. ……… ……. ……….. ………….. ….…. ……………. …………. ………… ……..… . ………….. ……….. …………….lking, I would stop mid-sentence. Why?

Well, when someone interrupts you they have already made it abundantly clear that their present need is to talk, not listen. So there is little point in engaging in a competition over airtime. What do you get if you win such a competition? Their undivided attention? Unlikely!

So when negotiators get interrupted, they stop talking and instead start listening. Whether your boss is spending 90 minutes chewing you out, or your partner is telling you why everything is your fault, or a customer is telling you all the reasons your company is crap, you can also choose to adopt our approach and simply listen.

This has several additional benefits for the negotiation process, and you can read further in our book.

The bad news is that this approach will strike most readers as quite odd… which tells me that this is not what people normally do. Some of the main reasons we don’t are:

  • We don’t understand how influence works. Specifically we assume that we influence by talking. However, negotiators know we influence much more by asking questions and listening.
  • We think we know where the other party is going, or we think they are wrong. Either way we believe they’re wasting our time by continuing talking!  However, negotiators know that talking is a need, and depriving the other party of this need is likely to cause resentment, resistance and other forms of pollution.
  • We have things to say of our own, and we want to share them now before we forget. However, negotiators don’t think either/or, but rather both/and. How can both the other party and we get a chance to talk? How about they start, we capture our thoughts on paper, and then we talk after the other party has finished?

In negotiation circles listening is commonly referred to as the cheapest concession you can give. So give generously!