Negotiating from a single perspective

There are multiple vantage points – or perspectives – from which we can view any interaction (a.k.a. negotiation). The perspective we adopt determines what we see. So in order to see more – and thus learn and understand more – negotiators choose to adopt multiple perspectives.

But what happens when I fail to consider other peoples’ perspectives and only stick with my own? Well, unsurprisingly the options, solutions or recommendations I come up with tend to only cater to my problem and my needs.

And if you don’t like my solution then there is a high risk that I will assume my job should be to persuade you to accept my solution. And when that doesn’t work I might instead resort to using power to force you to accept my solution.

And then we clash, deadlock, and get stuck in a potentially perpetual battle. All because I didn’t consider your perspective, and thus I didn’t (couldn’t!) think of a solution that would actually work for you as well.

With that little snippet of theory, let’s see a clear example of it in action. The key phrase to look out for comes about 55 seconds into the video that a reader sent me today.

Removing the need for negotiation

“You pay $150 dolla!!”
“No, I’m not paying anything!”
“Your fault, you pay $150 dolla!”
“No, it was your fault. I’m not paying anything!”

I move over to the curb as my friend and an enraged taxi driver continue their dialogue in the middle of the street. Cars on either side are incessantly using their car horns to signal their frustration with the gridlock. Some try to slowly squeeze past in the small gap that is not taken up by the taxis. Meanwhile the line of cars is rapidly growing in length.

“You open door, you pay me $150 dolla!”
“Forget it. You’re the one who overtook us!

As my friend had exited our taxi, another taxi had overtaken us, resulting in a small collision. While our taxi was scratch free (well, no additional scratches from the collision), the side mirror assembly of the other car was now in pieces on the ground.

“You pay me $150 dolla!”
“Hey, there is no way that mirror costs $150 dollars!”

This move was a mistake. By engaging in the conversation about cost, my friend could be perceived as accepting responsibility for the accident and now the question is reduced to “how much will he pay”. The taxi driver quickly picked up on this.

“Ok, you pay me $120 dolla!”

How are they negotiating now? Yes, old-style bargaining over money. This battle of attrition continued for about 10 minutes. So please picture 10 minutes of standing in the middle of the road, emotions running high, and with cars passing within centimetres, in the dusty, hot and humid air of South East Asia.

Eventually my friend turns silent, disengages from the dialogue, walks up to the damaged taxi, leans forward, and picks up the pieces of the side mirror. While he slowly inspects the mirror, the taxi driver continues their negotiation:

“70 dolla. You pay me 70 dolla!”

And then we all hear a *CLICK*. Was that… Could it be… Yes, as I look over I see that my friend have successfully put the side-mirror back together.

“But it is not working. You pay me $70 dolla!”
“How do you know it’s not working? Try it!”

The taxi driver reluctantly tries the electric mirror control. And voila, it’s all working and no visible scratches!

What begun as a clumsy bargaining process was resolved using masterful negotiation. My friend had snapped out of the traditional “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “I want XYZ from you” mentality, and instead removed the need to have a negotiation altogether.

In our book we named this technique preventative options – options (or solutions) that allow us to prevent the need to have particularly difficult negotiations. While our example here was quite trivial, this technique becomes a very powerful option for values-based negotiations where parties will never change their mind or accept being “wrong” (e.g. on abortion, religion, global warming, gun control, etc).

Negotiating gun control

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

In the options toolbox section of the book I share a number of approaches that can each unlock agreement for groups of structurally similar negotiations. We have already shared the path of least risk in relation to the climate change debate. Today we’ll look at another tool; chunking.

As humans we are lazy creatures by nature. We are designed to use mental shortcuts, rules of thumb, and simplifications wherever possible. This allows us to act swiftly in situations of danger. These shortcuts also free up our minds to do other things. But there is one big drawback – we are very prone to come up with oversimplified answers and solutions to complex problems. Without thinking about it, we launch into making a binary decision of “yes/no”, “for/against”, “right/wrong” or “agree/disagree”.

But what happens when we deal with something truly complex, such as the issue of gun control? We predictably end up with two polarized camps that each takes firm, inflexible and incompatible positions on the issue. On the issue of gun control, parties typically bring up completely different arguments. Yet, they keep rushing to a conclusion on one overall decision: e.g. “more or fewer guns” or “more or less restrictive gun policy”. You get the picture.

So what can we do instead? We chunk.

I recall a saying: “Even if we don’t know how to make an angel statue out of granite, we can still start by removing the parts that are obviously not part of the statue”.

Chunking is very similar to this. Let’s pick the sub-issues of gun control that we can obviously and trivially agree on. We may not resolve the entire issue, but we can make progress. Just agreeing on one sub-issue leaves parties better off than the previous stalemate. In fact, just agreeing to look for trivial areas of agreement leaves parties better off, because they are in agreement!

After the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, perhaps the first trivial issue parties can agree on to get the process started is: “Without polluting our discussion with any other issues at this point, can we at least agree that none of us would like to be killed by a gun…?”

And to continue the process of chipping away on the problem, parties may wish to pick the additional chunks that can easily be agreed on. Perhaps we can agree that:

  • Criminals convicted of armed robbery should not be allowed to carry guns, ever.
  • People with specific diagnosed personality or behaviour disorders should not be allowed to carry guns.
  • Gun ownership requires that the gun owner can guarantee that no one else will get access to the gun.

And so on. It is then with an eerie sense of déjà vu that I read yesterday’s issue of The Washington Post:

“A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors”