When it comes to negotiations, I love watching how people go about getting what they want. After training numerous groups in Negotiation and Conflict Management in different countries, what I have come to notice are some common unconscious patterns of behaviour that participants demonstrate when they negotiate. These patterns seem to be under pinned by some general assumptions. In my opinion, these assumptions are some of the biggest flaws in people’s negotiation strategies and if you happen to make these assumptions as well, then you do so at your own peril.
Assumption 1 – We share the same values.
Businessdictionary.com defines Values as “Important and enduring beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or desirable and what is not. Values exert major influence on the behaviour of an individual and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.”
Assuming that the other party or parties share the same values that you do, can seriously undermine your negotiation strategies. For instance, fairness, equality, integrity, respect, and honesty may mean different things to different people, and the behavioural demonstration of these values can be profoundly influenced by cultural bias. For example, in some asian cultures “saving face“ is an important value which may result in a variety of behaviours manifesting themselves during a negotiation, especially if there is the prospect of losing face in front of one’s colleagues or leaders. Something you may say or do, which by your standards and culture may be fine, may inadvertently be taken as being disrespectful. For instance, on one of my first trips to South Africa, I visited with a South African Sangoma (medicine man) to learn about his philosophy and approach to life. Before he would discuss anything with me, we first had to eat a meal together. I was told in no uncertain terms that not eating the food would be a sign of disrespect towards him. He stated that eating the food even if it was just one bite, would demonstrate that I trusted him and would show that I had no suspicions of the food being poisoned!
Define Values and ground rules in behavioural terms.
A much overlooked aspect of negotiation, but one that pays dividends, is to define what each other’s stated values and ground rules are in behavioural terms. You might like to ask questions such as “How will either party know if they have been treated unfairly, unethically or been disrespected?” “What behaviours will be demonstrated during the negotiation that represent “Respect”, “Integrity”, “Honesty”, “Fair Play” etc.?”
Assumption 2 - Win – Win outcomes result in equal distribution.
If you believe Win – Win means dividing something equally amongst the various parties, you’re going to be disappointed more often than not. There are many situations when we negotiate, where what we are negotiating over, does not have a defined objective value or can not be divided equally. Having the belief that Win – Win means equal distribution will likely result in a deadlock. This often manifests in workshops during multiple party negotiations over limited resources that can not be divided or shared without destroying or damaging the items.
Define Win – Win by how the outcome meets the legitimate interests and needs of the parties involved.
A Win – Win outcome should meet the legitimate interests and needs of the parties involved. Seeking to fulfill the deeper needs or core purpose that underpins the requests or positions of both parties should be the primary focus of the negotiation. Not how equally something is divided. If you aren’t clear on your legitimate needs or purpose for negotiating, then clarify them. Likewise, seek to uncover what the other party’s legitimate interests are. It may be that there is an alternate means of resolving the negotiation that both parties hadn’t previously considered and is a better solution than the one currently being discussed.
Assumption 3 - A quick resolution is a good resolution.
One of the mistakes I see novice negotiators make is to rush the process and discuss solutions before they have fully defined what the issues are and explored the needs and currencies of each party fully. Often, a solution is agreed to that does not meet their needs or puts them in a worse situation than when they started.
Take the time to explore the matter before you discuss solutions.
Often the devil is in the detail, take your time, explore what is on offer and get as much out in the open as you can. When weighing up your options, it is important that you make an informed decision. Exploring the other party’s perspective does not necessarily mean you have to agree with them. However, understanding their perspective may just provide you with some insight into how you can meet their legitimate needs and still achieve your desired outcomes. The better you understand the terrain you are navigating, the greater the chance you have of finding the path of least resistance.
So to recap the key points: