What is the best way to deal with differences?
“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life. Everyone negotiates something every day. Negotiating is a basic means of getting what you want from others.”
Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in is a classic, one of the all-time bestselling books on negotiation, written by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Negotiating is part of life and we all want to get better outcomes. Getting to Yes is a product of the Harvard Negotiation Project and adopts Principled Negotiation, a specific negotiation method that aims for mutual-gain agreements. It is a systematic approach to get what we want in negotiations while at the same time maintaining good relationships.
While collaboration is something we all say we desire, often we get stuck in adversarial negotiations. Our winnings comes at the expense of the other person. This is exactly the opposite of the win-win approach that Getting to Yes suggests.
Any method of negotiation should be evaluated by three criteria: it should be efficient, amicable and deliver a wise agreement.
Unfortunately, the most common form of negotiation is based on taking and then giving up a sequence of positions. When people bargain over positions, they tend to lock themselves into those positions, focusing more on defending them than in finding a mutual beneficial solution.
This positional bargaining wastes time and energy, and strains relationships. A better approach is principled negotiations.
When using positional bargaining, people fail to make progress in negotiations because they assume positions that are either Hard or Soft on both the people and the problem. However, the solution is to “change the game”. Instead of being either hard on the people and the problem, or soft on the people and the problem, we should learn to be soft on the people while being hard on the problem.
Principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits is based on four principles that can be used effectively on almost any type of dispute. The four principles are:
- Separate the people from the problem
- Focus on interests rather than positions
- Invent multiple options before deciding what to do
- Insist that the result be based on objective standards [p. 11]
These principles should be observed at each stage of the negotiation process.
Separate the people from the problem
We are creatures of strong emotions, and emotions can become entangled with the objective merits of the problem. Positional bargaining makes this worse, because “people’s egos become identified with their positions”. Separating the people from the problems facilitates addressing the issues without compromising the relationship. It also helps the parties to understand better the objective problem.
Focus on interests rather than positions
The second point is designed to separate interests from positions. Positions are the solutions that are being proposed by a negotiator, while the interests are his/her real concerns and objectives that support those positions. It’s better to focus on the interests because they define better the real problem or concern. Moreover, for every interest there may be more solutions, not just those proposed by a specific position.
A negotiating position often hides what a negotiator really wants. Therefore, even compromising between positions does not necessarily produces a good agreement, because the real interests may not be properly addressed by an agreement based on superficial positions.
Invent multiple options before deciding what to do
Instead of being limited by suboptimal solutions based on positions, it is better to use creativity and generate many ideas before trying to reach an agreement.
Negotiators may decide prematurely on a solution and so fail to consider alternatives. This is why it is important to separate the invention process from the evaluation stage. The parties should also avoid falling into a win-lose mentality by focusing on shared interests, seeking options in which differences can be made compatible or even complementary.
Insist that the result be based on objective standards
When interests are directly opposed it’s not easy to reconcile differences, especially under pressure. Rather than depend on a battle of wills, it is more effective to insist on using fair and objective criteria to evaluate different options. Decisions based on mutually accepted standards make it easier for the parties to agree on the solution while at the same time maintaining a good relationship.
Common obstacles in negotiations
Even the best negotiations strategy may not work due to several common challenges: when you’re facing a much more powerful opponent, when the other party won’t use principled negotiation, and when it play dirty tricks..
When the other party is more powerful, Fisher and Ury suggest ways to protect the weaker party against a poor agreement. One of these is to establish a “bottom line” to protect against a poor agreement.
When the other party won’t use principled negotiation, the authors describe three approaches for dealing with it. First, one side may simply continue to use the principled approach, since this approach is contagious. Second, the principled party could use “negotiation jujitsu”. In other words, when the other party attacks, the party using principled negotiation, instead of counter attack, should deflect the attack back onto the problem. The third approach requires bringing in a third party, who will assemble a list of the parties’ interests and then formulate a proposal.
When the other party plays dirty tricks the best way to overcome such tactics is to explicitly raise the issue during the negotiation, keep engaging in principled negotiation and define procedural ground rules.
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