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The Art of Negotiation

How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World

finished (2020)Michael Wheeler2013

1. Embracing Chaos

Negotiation is an active; unlike other philosophies, Wheeler asserts that his emphasizes that things can come up during the process which change its entire course. Because people are human and strategies are inevitably besot by unknown unknowns, it's best to keep a sharp focus on each party's overall goals and nimbly adapt to changing knowledge. The time negotiate is when you can learn more from talking to your counterpart than preparing in isolation!

2. A Map of the Pyrenees

To negotiate effectively, one must balance optimism and caution. If an offer is too good to be true, it's probably best to take it—don't press for better terms when the risk of jeopardizing even a currently great offer looms large. To analyze risk effectively, conduct a "premortem" where you take as axiomatic that something went horribly wrong in the negotiation—and try to guess what it was, and pre-empt it. (You can also do the opposite, attempting to imagine potential windfalls!)

3. Prospecting

Potential resolutions to a negotiation do not lie on a one-dimensional line, where one party's benefit works to the other's detriment. Rather, they lie within a triangle: each party's baseline (only marginally better than their BATNA), with a third side of external constraints (e.g. company policy). When entering into multidimensional negotiations, such as employment compensation (salary, benefits, stock options, role, etc), a person should map out multiple alternatives that would be equally satisfactory to them. Additionally, they should have a stretch goal, maybe some rare circumstance that would occur 10% of the time, to remind them not to be complacent but to be open to all kinds of even unpredictable possibilities.

4. Plan B

When your negotiation relies on the universal agreement of multiple parties, it is key to have a negotiating strategy—what do you do to win everyone's consent, and how do you adapt to obstacles? It can be important to build relationships with people; understand them so that you can give what's most important from their point of view. If possible, it's also nice to maintain an exit strategy: having a way out in case things fall through is always desirable.

5. Presence of Mind

It is absolutely crucial to be aware of your emotional state during negotiation, as—like with all personally human endeavors—feelings tend to dominate the outcome if allowed to run free. Negotiators have a difficult and paradoxical task: they must be both calm and alert, patient and proactive, practical and creative. They must be aware of their own emotions and those of others, in a very present attitude. It can help to consciously prepare for negotiation; breaks, deep breaths, and the like are great.

6. The Swing of Things

Negotiators can take some lessons from jazz and improv: in these disciplines, it is crucial that each party pays close attention to the others in order to respond and build on the foundation they've laid. Similarly, when negotiating, it's important to not only listen to but comprehend and adjust in real time to the things that your counterparts say! Don't sit and wait for the other person to take a breath so that you can deliver your canned response—adapt, in real time, in light of the fact that you're trying to solve a problem together. That requires responding and coming to a consensus, not bickering and painting oneself into a corner.

7. Situational Awareness

Taking an example from the military, it is important in negotiation to be generally prepared and adaptable to various courses of actions. Plan ahead—but prepare broadly, anticipating general strokes instead of specific happenings. Keep an overarching intent always paramount, instead of executing planned actions which in the moment would be futile. Always actively double-check your expectations: is what you expected actually happening? If not, adapt! If you choose to prepare specific courses of action or imagine a set of outcomes, anticipate two situations: that which is most likely to happen, and that which would be the most challenging.

8. Openings

The opening of any negotiation is critical, as it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. Will the parties be foes? Partners in solving a common problem? All this is determined in the opening salvo, as the two humans judge each other's warmth and competence. Avoid ego battles; embrace small talk to build a better relationship! If it helps, putting yourself in an open posture can actually increase confidence (while being closed will make you timid and stressed).

9. Critical Moments

All negotiations have moments where things change; how is it best to trigger and manage these? Keep the end game in mind. When things aren't going your way, it can be necessary to disrupt the flow, be it through correcting, diverting, interrupting, or naming power plays. Always be aware of where in the negotiation you stand: often, it's okay to say no or expect to receive a no if the negotiation isn't well- or fully-developed! Make sure not to be too harsh or strict with no's, though... you don't want to prematurely end the conversation by accident.

10. Closing

The final moments of making a deal can be crucial; often, unexpected things will be happen, so be ready for them. In the classic example of car sales, the salesman goes into a back room and says their manager upped the price. Things can get emotionally heated; this is especially common in the world of real estate, where emotions run high and negotiations through intermediaries often seem impersonal. If people feel pushed too far by final demands, they can call off the whole deal—be careful not to kill golden geese!

11. Silk Purses

Successful negotiations create value, most often and most successfully by summoning outside-the-box solutions which "expand the pie", creating much more value and allowing each party to get more than they imagined at the start. However, this is an intensely creative process, and it needs to be treated as such. The best way to be creative is to separate as much as possible the idea generation ("muse") and idea judgement ("editor") functions in your head: play around creatively, and see what comes of it. "A healthy defiance of reality..." (the ability to defy prior thinking) "...is contagious."

12. Wicked Learning

Negotiation is not a transparent process like shooting a basketball, where what's done well or badly is clear. Therefore, it's difficult to learn from—did you do well? Badly? The best you could? Much worse than possible? It's extraordinarily hard to tell, because outcomes are influenced by a host of factors (including luck), some of which you may not even know about! To learn what you can, though, it's important to reflect after each negotiation as to what could have gone differently; imagining other paths of action and how they may have played out is about all you can do to learn, so do it thoroughly, and be humble.

13. Fair Enough

What is ethical in negotiation? Should you always do best for yourself, even harming others? Should you follow the golden rule? What is "fair"? How much of a good deal is too much? Your actions define your character, and each person comes to see morality differently through the lens of their own personal experience and beliefs. When negotiating, act ethically, however you define that. Immoral success will often bring with it an overbearing shame or guilt; that's not worth a quick momentary exploitation.

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