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April 13, 2015

Negotiation Lifehacks: the three D’s

Communication

Jeff Cochran

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Some people may feel like negotiation isn’t really a skill-set they need to develop because they don’t work in sales, or law, or sports management or whatever. But the truth is everybody — except maybe for certain categories of criminals and tyrants — negotiates to have their personal needs and interests met.

Negotiation isn’t the same thing as manipulation. The difference between those two things hinges on the difference between good faith and bad faith. Negotiation is a good faith effort to have our personal wants and needs met.

Here are a few examples of everyday situations in which negotiation becomes necessary:

  • Maybe you need to sell something of value and can’t afford to sacrifice on the price, but the value you imagine isn’t imagined the same way by others.
  • Maybe you need to marshal support of peers and colleagues for an idea you feel strongly about.
  • Perhaps you need to settle a debt.

Because situations like these come up all the time, negotiation really is an ordinary, everyday task. It’s just one that requires extraordinary preparation to master.

All of us have conversations everyday. And we’ve all heard conversation referred to as an artform. Well, by extension, negotiation is the art of difficult conversations. And prepared negotiation is the art of succeeding in difficult conversations, while retaining amicable relations. So let’s discuss some negotiation training and preparation techniques called the three D’s to help us work toward mastery.

Draft

Most of us understand how we feel on emotional levels, as opposed to intellectual levels, which means articulating our feeling without allowing emotion to dominate their expression in conversation can often feel a little strange and awkward. There’s a school of thought that characterizes honest communication as the simple act of describing how you feel, and then clearly stating what you want. It’s a simple two-step process. While that may seem overly simplistic at a glance, deeper inspection shows it’s not. Sitting down before hand to gather thoughts and sort out how we feel about the details of a situation, and then ruminate on a workable solution takes our personal, emotional experience and transmutes those vague thoughts into focused and defined concepts that can be expressed clearly. In some cases, like a tense situation or a dispute that requires resolution, the drafting stage can provide some catharsis that purges negative emotions from the situation.

Drafting gets to the substance of what you want to say, but it is not the end of the conversation. A couple of other aspects to consider in the drafting stage are:

  • Objectives: What do you hope to accomplish in this negotiation? Can it be broken down into a simple list?
  • Precedents: Can you think of any example where other people faced a similar situation? Where they successful, or did they fail? Is there a lesson for you to draw from in their experience?
  • Anecdotes: You may find that precedents lead to relatable stories. Telling stories is a great method for taking a particular circumstances and making them universally relatable. Consider applying this method without turning into Ben Matlock, if possible.

Devil’s Advocate

The devil’s advocate stage is where we put the draft we’ve compiled to the test. The goal is to verify whether or not the drafting stage sufficiently exorcised the emotions involved, or if our argument is still under the influence of those emotions in ways that are counterproductive to the goals. If the emotions and the logic don’t merge into a persuasive argument, the devil’s advocate will help reveal which of the pertinent thoughts, feelings, hopes, and expectations should remain on the negotiation table, and which ones should go.

Some questions to consider in the devil’s advocate stage are:

  • What happens if things don’t work out?
  • What are some alternate outcomes you’re willing to consider?
  • To what degree do alternative outcomes satisfy your interests?
  • What are the needs and wants of the other party that you may be able to address?
  • What are the other party’s options if they choose not to work it out with you?

Recruit a Trusted friend or colleague to play your devil’s advocate. Practice delivering the argument you develop from the drafting stage and have your devil’s advocate pose counterpoints. This will put you in the shoes of the other party. Devil’s advocacy may be an ongoing process. Perhaps more than one redraft will be necessary, so choose someone who can remain involved for as long as possible.

Deliver

Remember the concept of honest communication from the beginning of this post? Describe how you feel. Then state what you want.

Remember how we considered whether or not the idea of saying how you feel and then asking for what you want, was overly-simplistic? It’s not. But it is easier said than done. For most people the hardest part about negotiation is the asking stage. Preparing yourself for the awkward request is the real crux of this process.

What makes the hard request easier is smooth and practiced delivery. The final conversation may happen in a different context, like a different time or a different location than expected. There may be unforeseen interruptions, or questions that arise and break up the flow you’ve rehearsed. This possibility also needs to be prepared for.

Here are a few tips for that process.

  • Keep your devil’s advocate on hand to act as your delivery coach.
  • Practice delivering your scripted argument, and have your devil’s advocate interrupt with challenges to your argument.

The need to negotiate does not arise from people harboring wants and needs they’re not entitled to. Negotiation arises when perfectly legitimate wants and needs are found to be at odds with the wants and needs of others, or vice versa. Those instances in which we must engage with others to find solutions for competing needs and interests are types of negotiations. Power disparities, social dynamics, and the nuances of each person’s individual perspective, and circumstances requires that each of us negotiate with others from time to time, or else resort to crime, tyranny, or the other side of that equation, victimhood and/or martyrdom.

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