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Mar 01 2016
Lessons Learned in Negotiations, Part 2
Erik Wright, CBF, Spectrum Engineers, Inc.

You may recall that last month I began to recount an instance of 'principled' negotiations that occurred between me and my tenacious, stubborn, and capricious teenage daughter. I use this illustration in part because it is still fresh in my mind but mainly due to the fact that when it comes to working out a favorable deal, she is perhaps the most difficult person to negotiate an agreement without giving in second only to Donald Trump. So, I hope you can bear with me and see how it might be applicable in your negotiations with a difficult client, customer, or boss.  Here is how I applied Roger Fisher and William Ury's techniques from their book Getting to Yes; Negotiating Without Giving In.

The strategic pause on the phone gave me some time to collect my thoughts. I reflected on times passed and how hard it had been to deal with issues without misunderstanding each other, getting upset and ultimately taking things personally. "Daddy?!!" She whined again. "You let my brother get a dog; so why can't I have a cat? It's not fair that when he asked you for a dog, you would get him one. But when I ask you, you tell me 'no'!"

I could see where things were going and I knew that before we went any further I had to separate the people from the problem. It is obvious that my daughter only sees the world from her perspective and that she is obviously confusing her view with reality. If I failed to be sensitive to her feelings and perceptions she would only misconstrue what I say and misinterpret what I say in the way I intended. Fisher and Ury point out that one way to separate the people from the problem is first to recognize that who we are negotiating with is also human; "failing to deal with others sensitively as human beings prone to human reactions can be disastrous for a negotiation."

"Sweetheart," I replied "I know how much we have all enjoyed having Jager (the now 115 pound 14 month old German Shepherd) as a member of our family and by having him we all have had to sacrifice to ensure that he is taken care of . . . You have especially done a lot to make sure he is loved. It's been a lot of work; hasn't it?"

She hesitantly replied, "Yes, yes it has. But I really want a cat!"

Sensing that I may have helped recognize her personal contribution to the family in raising our dog while maintaining her perception in check, I still detected that I would need to proceed with care. If I were to make any progress, I now needed to focus on what her 'interest' was, and not her position. These interests are what influence people; they are the backbone behind our positions. I knew her position - she wants a cat, but I had no idea what her interest was that caused her to decide her position. After all, this request came without any hint or prior indication that this had been even remotely on her mind. I had no clue why should would be asking. 

"You realize that this is the first I'm hearing about this; what happened that all of a sudden you want a cat?" I asked.

"Kayla is moving tomorrow and she can't take her cat with her! She doesn't just want to give it to anyone; it needs to have a good home." She answered.

The desire to be appreciated by her friend by helping her out in a time in need and the concern for the well being of her pet was her 'interest.' While she may have had other interests - I know my daughter well, and this had to be the main driving factor motivating her to come to me despite clearly understanding my hardline position on the matter. 

Despite my uncompromising position, my interest is to have a happy daughter and a home free of cat dander and torn up furniture legs, negotiating to 'yes' really wasn't too difficult. Because I don't have a vendetta against cats for their ultimate demise, all I needed to do was negotiate a deal that had our interests at heart. 

Because I understood her interests, I was able to create a few options that we both were happy to live with. I ended up helping her create an emergency campaign to help find a home for the soon to be destitute feline. 

Here is how Fisher and Ury break down the recipe for a successful negotiation:

 1 - Don't Bargain Over Positions

 2 - Separate People from the Problem

 3 - Focus on Interests, Not Positions

 4 - Invent Options for Mutual Gain

While this information may not be new to you - in fact, you may already naturally implement this technique anyway. Nevertheless, like keeping our tools sharp and available, sometimes it is good to breakdown the framework of what works and then try to better understand why it worked so that we may be on top of our game the next go around. Of course every negotiation is different - but the basic elements are almost always the same. That's why whether we are negotiating with a family member or a desperate customer; if we understand these basic elements we may be more apt to be successful.