A Jedi mind trick for creating more value

The participants in the executive program returned to the seminar room after having carried out a negotiation simulation with each other. The key focus of the negotiation had been to maximise value and the group of international senior managers and executives had performed quite well.

In the following debrief we discussed how we could have created even more value, and the group collectively identified quite a few additional options. Well done!

But then I put a very simple question to the group: “We’ve now pushed the limit of what we can achieve in the negotiation, so let us try something else. What if I now asked you to forget about the negotiation altogether, and instead simply treat the case you were given as an exercise in how to maximise value for the two parties involved?”

I was temporarily blinded by all the metaphorical light bulbs that simultaneously switched on in the room 🙂 . Creating dramatically more value suddenly became very easy – even trivial.

So what changed? The task was still the same, but the participants’ frame of mind had changed. When asked to merely solve a well-defined problem (i.e. “What would it take to maximise value for both parties”) we do precisely that – solve the problem. We know how to solve problems and we do it well!

In contrast, when we believe our task is to negotiate, chances are – ironically – that our brains start to run destructive processes that severely limit our ability to influence others or create value. The vast majority of us have flawed beliefs of how influence works, so when we attempt to influence we actually – unintentionally but effectively – sabotage the process instead.

So what is the Jedi mind trick I’m referring to in the title? “We are presently not in a negotiation… We are presently not in a negotiation… It is just a problem to be solved… We are presently not in a neg…” In other words, with most people we want to avoid associating the word “negotiation” with our current interaction.

Interestingly, when we cross paths with the minority of people who subscribe to value creation, win/win and systems maximisation, we actually want to do the opposite and encourage them to make the most of using their skills for everyone’s benefit. So here the mind trick then changes to:We are presently in a negotiation… Every interaction is a negotiation… We are presently in a neg…”

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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.

Negotiating motivation

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

A couple of times per year I run a motivational seminar at university. “But you’re a negotiator – what can you possibly know about motivation!?”

Let me answer your question with another question: what is negotiation? Well, there are multiple definitions, and neither is clearly the best one.

I propose that a useful definition is to say that I negotiate when I try to influence you to work towards outcomes that will benefit me; e.g. give me more money.

So what is motivation then? Perhaps we consider motivation to be when I try to influence you to get excited about working towards a particular outcome that benefits you; e.g. quit smoking.

If these two processes look similar it’s because they are. And we can we continue our thinking – is it possible for me to convince you to pursue outcomes that would benefit both of us? E.g. making our shared business more profitable?

And taken even further, could I get you to pursue outcomes that will benefit you, me, and others? E.g. peace, security and a clean environment?

So, perhaps a useful definition of negotiation is then that I negotiate when I try to motivate you to work towards outcomes that benefit me, or you, or both of us, or everyone.

And which of these outcomes would make you most motivated..?