The best negotiators follow a different practice: they ask questions, test for understanding, summarize discussions, and listen, listen, listen.
An excellent way to explore the other side's interests is through a role reversal, a technique we use in our negotiation workshops. Let's say you are about to negotiate with your boss over a promotion. In a role reversal, you pretend for a moment that you are the boss. Then you ask a spouse, colleague, or friend to play you. After briefing your friend on the issues, you stage a meeting in which you discuss the promotion. As you sit in your boss's chair, ask yourself, "How might it serve my interests to help this employee achieve his or her goals?" When the role play reaches a natural conclusion, write down the reasons why it might make sense from the boss's point of view to promote you. Talk with your role-play partner about your conclusion. A role reversal will not allow your to actually read your boss's mind, but your insights can form the basis for a list of good questions to ask.
Suppose your are a corporate division chief faced with a downsizing mandate. Each division must slash 10% of its staff. You study the situation and determine that with a 10% there will simply not be enough people to do the work. Your initial instinct may be to go to your boss, show her you cannot do your job with the proposed cuts, and request permission for an exception to retain your staff.
Will this be persuasive? Probably not. Everyone is going to say the same thing, and she will not make her downsizing target if everyone retains staff. She will counter your "not enough people to do the work" argument with a lecture on efficiency and send you back to find ways of getting more work from fewer people.
How can you gain better normative leverage for your request? By anticipating what standards and norms the boss believes to be relevant in this sort of situation and making your arguments based on her standards - not yours. If she likes to think about ways to be more efficient, give her arguments based on efficiency. Tell her you have evaluated the assortment of tasks your department is doing and have determined that your group is superbly efficient at tasks 1, 2, and 3 but is still equipped to perform tasks 4 and 5. Even after a 10% staff cut, you could do considerably more of tasks 1, 2, and 3 if the boss would assign tasks 4 and 5 to other groups better equipped to handle them.
Alternatively, you might try to demonstrate how, by retaining more of your staff and cutting more heavily elsewhere in the organization, your boss could sharply reduce the time and cost of an entire business process spanning several divisions. That would save the firm money - which is the underlying point of downsizing - while improving an area on which the boss herself is evaluated.
Will such argument carry the day each time you use them? No. But they have a better chance of advancing your goals than arguments based strictly on your own point of view.
By positioning your needs within the normative frameworks other parties use to make decisions, you show them respect and, as a result, gain their attention. Because the difference between success and failure in negotiation is often very small, anything that systematically improves your chances of getting agreement to your terms will pay off in the long run.
Inside organizations, you gain leverage by having control over key items such as resources, decisions, budgets, information and the like. The need to preserve and enhance relationships, always important in every negotiation, is paramount within an organization.
As the old saying goes: by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.
Here are four documented risks of using email, along with suggestions on how to minimize these risks.
1. Increased risk of impasse. Electronic messaging can come across as more aggressive than spoken words. This can trigger reactions in the receiver, who then fires off an angry response. The problem escalates from there. Several detailed studies of e-mail negotiations have confirmed this problem. The fix: Take special care to show respect and build rapport online. Schmooze a little, even if it feels unnecessary.
2. Careless clicking. The informality and privacy of sitting in front of a computer screen tends to put us off our guard, and we forget that our message can easily be copied and sent to unintended audiences. The fix: Think hard before you click. Never send a first draft of a sensitive message. How will others read your words?
3. Delay. Research shows that conflicts can take much longer to resolve using e-mail than by relying on other, wider communication channels. The fix: Schedule regular calls and meetings to supplement e-mail communications.
4. Polarized group decisions. When groups negotiate electronically, they tend to reach decisions that are more extreme in one direction or another than when they meet face-to-face. The lack of social awareness and nonverbal channels seems to reduce the salience of compromise. The fix: don't close until you've had a conference call to review the decision in real time.
The research on negotiation effectiveness repeatedly underscores a simple fact about skilled negotiators: they focus more than average negotiators do on receiving, as opposed to delivering information. Listening is a key effectiveness factor for negotiators. As a rule of thumb, probe first, discover second. Blabbermouth negotiators do it the other way around: they carelessly disclose information first and ask questions later.
First, they ask twice as many questions as average negotiators. These questions are designed to elicit real information.
Next, they test their understanding of what the other side has said by rephrasing it in their own words ("When you say 'ten days,' do you mean ten calendar days or ten business days?"). Third, they periodically summarize where they think the parties are in the process ("As I understand it, we have agreed to pay you within 90 days of delivery and you have promised to deliver within seven business days of the date you receive our specifications - is that correct?"). Finally, they listen carefully to all of the other party's answers, taking notes and checking their notes for accuracy.
In his classic book Getting Past No, conflict resolution expert and mediator Wiliam Ury calls this "building the other side a golden bridge" they can cross to return to the table. Such bridges include "forgetting" that they walked on or got angry in the first place, recalling their last statement in a way that preserves their dignity and gives them a reason for returning, or referring to "changed circumstances" that provide a face-saving reason to restart the process.
* Express regret and remorse: "I'm really sorry. You have every right to be angry."
* Take responsibility: "It was my fault. I take full responsibility for it."
* Commit to change: "I can assure you it won't happen again."
* Offer a remedy: "Is there any way I can make it up to you?"
It helps to ask an open-ended follow-up questions. "Thank you for expressing yourself so clearly on this," you might respond. "Can you help us better understand the thinking behind this principle?"
You could help them redefine the scope of the principle so your case falls outside of it. "Your rule is a good one," you could say after hearing them out. "But I wonder if it applies to our unique case. Our deal envisions is a long-term strategic partnership, not a commodity transaction."
Do not be so sweet that people will eat you up, nor so bitter they will spit you out.
Gently push back, at least for one round. Cooperative people are programmed to say yes to the first reasonable proposal someone makes. To improve, you need to practice pushing back a little. A simple question that works well is: "Can you do better than that?" If the other side says no and you feel you can sustain the process for another round, ask for help understanding why that is the best they can do. If their answer makes no sense, share your confusion. You will get farther with a little polite persistence than you will by quick surrender.