Here’s a respite from the last few postings. Instead of talking law stuff, we’re going to talk philosophy stuff. There are no experts here, only opinions. And, if history is a guide to the future, lots of them.
Also, this isn’t going to be a very focused posting. That might be because we’re going to try to steer clear of any substantive negotiation strategy but, in the end, but you can’t isolate style from substance. Perhaps instead of writing “substance,” we should be writing: “results.”
Another reason may be that there is no “right” answer to the questions we pose even the answers suggested by our Ruminations.
What is the role of civility during negotiations? What about displaying respect for others? Now, we’re not talking divorce here. We’re talking adoptions. Almost all readers have come to Ruminations to talk about “deals,” whether that means a lease, a contract of sale, an SNDA, loan documents or similar “bargains” that are intended to make each side happy, not “less unhappy.”
So, does anyone really think that the reason your negotiating counterpart hasn’t yet “bought” your arguments and suggested contractual provisions is because she or he is hard of hearing and all you have to do is up the decibels? So, why do we do it? Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating to be entirely “right” (and there are times when on negotiator is entirely right), but raising the volume more than a little above normal (all the way up to screaming) probably won’t be convincing,
Similarly, some people, in fact, do know more than other people about certain things. That doesn’t mean about “everything” and that doesn’t mean the other side is an ignoramus (which includes elements of both ignorance and stupidity). After all, there is ignorance and there is ignorance, but how useful is it to have your colleague on the other side of the table (or phone) get the sense you are calling him or her stupid. How does that advance the goal? You see, the problem is that you don’t have to use words of insult to leave such a message. And, by the way, unless you’ve never been wrong in the past, you do have some “ignorance” of your own.
So, where does this take us? It is one thing to promote your point of view and it is another to bully or attempt to get your way through intimidation. Even if bullying is seemingly successful in the first instance, you have to wonder if, in the long term, it was worthwhile. Yes, you might have gotten the best of the deal, but many real estate deals, such as leasing deals or loans, only start when the contract is signed. Even contracts of sale have a period between signature and completion. So, the tables may turn. In negotiation, you may be the side with far superior bargaining power, but heaven help you or your client if either of you needs a favor down the line, even a simple and reasonable one. People who leave a negotiation feeling insulted or put upon don’t easily forget. Call it yielding to coercion, not at the level to set aside an agreement, but at a level never to be forgotten.
Besides, bullying can often cause its perpetrator to overlook important details. You are too busy hammering the nail with a sledge hammer to use the right nail for the material. Also, you’re setting up a “my way or the highway” situation, risking no deal at all. [And we’re not talking Limp Bizkit.]
If each party understands that, at the end of the day, there will be a deal and each side will be better off for making the deal, then there is an opportunity for competitive cooperation. That takes listening.
Yes, “listening,” because while you are talking you can’t hear what the other side needs to make the deal or is offering to give up. It’s pretty interesting that the most experienced negotiators working in their own area of substantive knowledge are probably the best listeners. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions; after all we’re talking “people” not computers. Nonetheless, you might think the opposite is true. After all, people who have been doing this for a living really don’t need the other side to tell them what the other side needs; they pretty much know the answer ahead of time. Or, so you might think. How can you know the degree of the other party’s aversion to risk? How can you know its “hot points,” especially the one that got it burned last week?
The reason it seems that experienced, but not deeply experienced negotiators, seems to show less patience for listening is because they don’t realize that they don’t yet have “all the knowledge,” yet they think they know what is better for the other side than the other side knows for itself. Truly experienced negotiators have learned otherwise. So, another suggestion is to drop that sense of superiority. It doesn’t move the ball forward and you lose out by not learning from the other side. Besides, you can’t sign both sides of the deal; it takes two to tango.
Try empathy – appreciate the concerns and viewpoints on the other side. You don’t have to agree, but if you don’t hear them and give those viewpoints respect, you’ll have a harder time getting the deal done. You’ll miss the chance to reach agreement sooner. Remember, it isn’t a zero-sum game. If someone expresses a legitimate need in a deal, you can often satisfy that need at little or no cost to your own needs.
How else can you send negotiations down a side rail? Understand that when a train goes down a side rail, it will reach a dead end and to return to the main track; it will back up. It still gets to its destination, but uses more fuel, labor, and time. So, you don’t want to go down side rails if you don’t have to. One way to make that unwanted trip is to be hostile. Of course it’s best not to feel hostile, but when you do, don’t show it. It is rarely productive. Showing impatience is another way. You can add to this list yourself. Of course, not from the way you act, but from your experience with the way others act.
Here’s a big one. How many times have you seen this or felt you’ve seen this – grandstanding? Maybe some clients or bosses don’t yet know how really good you are and you can show them by really trying to dominate a negotiation but, if the other side sees through this, do you really thing your own side doesn’t? Is it worth the chance?
So, what outcome is Ruminations trying to negotiate with its readers through this posting? What we’d like to see is an agreement to be civil and respectful, helpful and collegial, principled, and focused on the common goal of getting a deal done. Again, we aren’t doing divorces. Another outcome is that we at Ruminations have to work much harder at all of this for ourselves. For most of us, this remains a work in process. It begins with self-confession and then public confession.