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).

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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.