Negotiating Skills and the 10 Powers of Negotiation: Focusing on Collaboration

Not a battle, not a war…

A negotiation is neither a battle nor a war. Instead, over the years, I’ve preferred to see it in the context of a problem-solving process. The danger in seeing a negotiation as a battle or a war is that, if you do, it becomes way too personal — way too quickly. And as it becomes way too personal, the focus will inevitably turn to “winners” and “losers” in the negotiation. And as this happens, both sides will start to keep score. And as we start to keep score, we will find ourselves on a slippery steep slope sliding quickly away from the possibility of a successful negotiation…

Instead, I’ve preferred to think of a negotiation instead as a journey. Once you and the other side have agreed on the destination for your journey, the focus then shifts to finding a way to work together to get there that suits you both. The critical element to achieve success, therefore, is the ability to work together — or to collaborate or brainstorm. George Bernard Shaw offers this insight into the power of collaboration:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
Over the years, we’ve all experienced the power of collaboration as a tool for innovation, creativity and greater productivity in our various activities. Why should this be any different in the context of negotiation? It isn’t…

A myth…

In his book, The Culture of Collaboration, Evan Rosen refers to The Myth of the Single Cowboy. This is the idea of a John Wayne riding in on a white horse to solve any problem without any anyone’s help. This has led to the concept of celebrity. And it is to the gods of celebrity that we worship, whether the object of our admiration is a cowboy, quarterback, surgeon or chef. And the result? Almost everyone secretly (or openly) yearns to be a celebrity.

When organizations and negotiating teams embrace the idea of celebrity they reinforce The Myth of the Single Cowboy. One effect is to create competition for the role of celebrity. This sometimes results in those who should be collaborating opting not to share knowledge with anyone who is perceived as a competitor. And, for collaboration, this is a cancer. In the context of negotiation, the only way we can ever reach our agreed destination is for both sides to share information. We therefore have to create a negotiating environment that encourages information-sharing. We also have to try to leverage the concept of celebrity for our own benefit…

My hero theory — and a starting point in creating that environment…

Whether or not we like it, the concept of celebrity is a reality that won’t go away. Over the years, I have tried to leverage this in negotiations. I have tried to identify someone on the other side who I wanted to make a hero or a celebrity within his or her organization. Invariable, if we were lucky, this would often create an ally within the other camp.

An invaluable starting point in creating a negotiating environment that encourages this information-sharing is to draw on the 10 Powers of Negotiation that Nelson Mandela displayed in his historic negotiations with the South African apartheid government. Consider how each of these 10 Powers might help create the negotiating environment we are trying to create:

  • The power of understanding that a negotiation is a process.
  • The power of preparation.
  • The power of positioning.
  • The power of common sense and logic.
  • The power of dignity, congeniality, humility and humor.
  • The power of truth and fairness.
  • The power of observation – of listening and seeing.
  • The power of morality, courage and attitude.
  • The power of patience.
  • The power to walk away.

As I will discuss in later articles, each of these Powers works to help create the needed environment to help you reach your negotiation destination.

Here are a few collaboration concepts that are sometimes particularly effective in the negotiation context.

The concept of Collaborative Chaos…

Because some negotiators prefer to view negotiation as a contest — or something that occurs exclusively in the context of dispute resolution, they rarely think of negotiation and collaboration in the same breath. They don’t see a negotiation as a problem-solving process. The result is that they invariably approach negotiation in a way that does not encourage information-sharing and innovation. The problem about this is that information-sharing and innovation is indispensable as we need to solve the problems we need solved to reach our joint destination.

In preparing for a negotiation, therefore, those negotiators who view negotiation as a contest generally tend to treat the negotiation as an ordered and structured process — and often even a scripted process. Not that this is necessarily bad. It is just that, in the context of having to find innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems, we might just sometimes need something a little different.

Effective collaboration sometimes requires some degree of chaos. Chaos isn’t the same as disorganization. Instead, it means the unstructured exchange of ideas that is always designed to create value. The problem with an ordered approach is that it encourages predictable results — and that might not necessarily be what we want or need. Collaborative chaos allows for the unexpected to happen — and that is sometimes quite good…

Collaborative chaos requires a free flow of ideas — something we commonly call brainstorming. This requires courage, because our initial ideas might not be neither great nor particularly profound. What often happens, however, is that an initially flawed idea might trigger a refinement that, in turn, might trigger something better and more innovative. And that gives birth to a Eureka! moment. It is a case of one thing leading to another. An example is the discovery of penicillin that was apparently the result of chaos, rather than order. As he was researching influenza, Alexander Fleming noticed that mold had invaded a culture plate of Staphylococci. It had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. The mold he found wasn’t something he was specifically looking for. The name he gave this mold was penicillin

To introduce a strain of collaborative chaos into a negotiation also serves other useful purposes. It helps create the impression with the other side that you and they are sitting on the same side of the table as you work together to find solutions. It can also breed trust. It tends to confirm that not everything you do is scripted and is a calculated ploy to get something from them. It thereby tends to lower defenses. Finally, it allows you to be self-deprecating as you criticize your own ideas — and this again helps build relationships and trust.

The concept of Constructive Collaboration…

What the concept of constructive collaboration focuses on is the need to confront concepts rather than people. While there is always a need for all sides to take a position on any particular idea that is put forward, the idea is always to confront concepts rather than people.

Collaboration requires exchanging viewpoints — and this often results in confrontation. But confrontation is not bad — provided it does not become personal. Constructive confrontation is about being able to present your position on something that others may not agree with, but in a way that focuses on concepts rather than people.

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove encouraged constructive confrontation. He supported the notion of encouraging debate with differing points of view. Ultimately, when this occurs, business issues come into clearer focus. He believed that difficult decisions require clarity of thought — and that debate brings this clarity. Similarly, in a negotiation, negotiators must confront each other so that they can clarify their differences. This, in turn, will help with the collaborative problem-solving process.

No collaboration without creating trust…

At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, people like working with people they like. And if people don’t trust you, it is unlikely they will like you. Certainly, if they don’t trust you, they will find it difficult if not impossible to collaborate with you. And if they find it difficult to collaborate with you, reaching your destination will become problematic… So, how do you create trust? Stay tuned…

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