I heard this remarkable phrase yesterday on the Radio 4 program Women’s hour recently. A group of highly powered women were discussing the participants of the Women Game Changers of the year for 2013 and who should be included, and who should win.
Each was trying to persuade the other about their own view. Why they were right and how the others should agree with them. They should drop their own view and switch sides.
It was astoundingly unsuccessful. Never once did someone say, “The strength of your argument is such that I am now utterly convinced that you are right, and I am wrong”. In fact, one of the involved parties said, “Well I agree with you. But I also agree with me”. The fact that both arguments were diametrically opposed and the irony of the statement seemed utterly lost.
For those of us involved in the selling of products, goods, ideas, solutions and concepts we hope that the good pitch will have its own inevitable conclusion: the signing on the dotted line. In my experience, that may not be the case.
Indeed, when the selling stops the commercial realities of the negotiation start to hit. If we are selling complex products with a whole variety of variables to discuss around the delivery of the sale, in many ways the discussion then truly begins and it is were the value for both parties are truly decided.
The basic difference between selling and negotiation therefore, is that selling is a process to identify the fit between what the seller is offering and what the buyer is seeking. Negotiation is a different and identifiable process of agreeing the terms of the deal. In many ways the negotiation should only begin when there is a genuine commitment from the buyer and seller towards a conditional sale.
Imagine a situation where you are asking someone out for a date. There is no point in booking the restaurant if the other party has not agreed to go out with you. Once the date has been agreed, then you might begin the discussion or negotiation about where to eat, what to eat, when to eat it and who picks up the tab.
The common method of gaining influence is selling and it is usually the only thing we try. If the other party can be persuaded to accept, your offer it is by far the cheapest solution. The only cost is time and a bit of intellect. Unfortunately, experience shows that not only does outright persuasion have a high failure rate, it also often provokes feelings of frustration and anger. “Why can’t the idiots see what I am getting at. They are being deliberately obtuse and difficult. Well, I can play hard ball too”
We are so convinced about the validity of our persuasive argument that the only problem must be that the other side have not quite understood it. That sets up more persuasion using maybe slightly different language or a raised voice. We build more and more persuasive reasons why the other side should see it our way. The temptation is to say, “I agree with me”. The problem is that maybe they don’t.
Negotiation requires us to recognise that the selling has concluded. The conflict that is left that needs to be resolved is the one on the terms. Most commercial relationships are based fundamentally on conflict. Buyers always want a better rate, more value, better service. Sellers may want to provide those things too, but only from a commercially advantageous position.
When we are selling, we are usually talking more than we are listening. Most grand parents give negotiation advice instinctively. Two ears and one mouth use them in that proportion is sound advice for the negotiation phase of the process. Listen more than you talk.
For many of us that is much easier to say than it is to do. And this by itself it is not enough. Constructive listening requires positive questioning; use the limited amount of talking time as effectively as possible.
During your preparation for the negotiation, you will of course know your own point of view on the issues to be discussed. You will know what is flexible and what is not. You will not of course know the same for the other side. During the dialogue phase of the negotiation, it is your opportunity to test any estimations or assumptions you have made.
So, what should you focus on when getting ready for a negotiation?
Ask lots of open questions to try to understand the other side. Try to understand what is driving them. Where are their priorities and concerns? What is stopping them from agreeing the current deal?
You can ask all the questions in the world, but if you don’t listen carefully to what the other person tells you, you are wasting your time and losing valuable opportunities. Active listening means actually hearing what people tell you. It means asking clarifying questions when the other person says something vague or that requires elaboration.
True listening means that you stop multi-tasking during a telephone conversation. Don’t type notes into your computer, scan emails or anything else.
Listen for underlying meanings, clues and cues, and respond accordingly.
One of the most effective ways to show that you have listened (and heard) what they have told you is to quickly recap the key points they mentioned as being important. Or even buy yourself some time and information by asking them to recap their key issues.
Focus your full attention on the other person. Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand.
The negotiator then needs to build these needs into their thinking and into their negotiation solutions. So many times, we are given clear information from the other side that is then ignored in the proposals we make. No matter how long we stand in the argue phase deploying arguments, supporting our own position and opposing theirs, no progress can be made until the parties indicate their willingness to negotiate something different from what is initially on the table.
Negotiations only progress when proposals hit the table. The most effective proposals are those that accommodate the majority of the priorities from both sides (or all sides in multi lateral negotiations) involved.
The negotiator who delivers conditional flexibility into their refined proposal must not be tempted to continue to oversell the new proposal which potentially shows weakness or fear of failure. Instead, they should use their proposals to drive the process. Well-constructed, thought through proposals that give your opponent what they want on terms that work for you are the method by which real lasting deals can be done.
And I agree with myself on that.
Five things you should be looking out for: