Wake-up Call: Rethink roles behind negotiation


Too often, we’re so focused on the substance of negotiations and not the human dynamics that drive it

Too often, we’re so focused on the substance of negotiations and not the human dynamics that drive it

Too much of the negotiation literature treats us as if we’re rational creatures making logical conclusions about pursuing well-defined interests. While that may be true at times, negotiations most often are interpersonal exchanges clouded with emotion.

And we sometimes take illogical positions that undermine our own interests based on irrational impulses.

My colleagues and I have examined these crucial moments and found a few best practices for addressing the dynamics that frequently drive negotiations:

– Embrace conflict quickly:

Often in our discomfort with conflict, we delay talking about divisive issues. In the meantime, judgments, suspicions and emotions escalate – making it inevitable that when we finally start the dialogue, it will degenerate into negotiating games rather than collaborative problem-solving. You can minimise unnecessary escalation by engaging sooner rather than later.

– Discuss the real problem:

If something is bugging you, pause and get a clear understanding of your concern. Ask yourself, “What’s really going on for me here?” Then, if needed, put it on the table.

– Create safety:

Our brains give cognitive priority to perceived threats. When something menacing appears, our reasoning centres are inhibited and our reptilian brains assume authority.

This is bad news when we perceive threats in complex interpersonal negotiations. The cognitive fog can cause us to stomp away, issue threats or cave in when better options are available. And our actions can provoke others to do the same.

To avoid disaster in negotiations, remember that the first condition for success is psychological safety. Long-term positive outcomes are achieved when everyone is committed to the agreement, so ensure that the other party knows two things: you care about his interests, and you respect him.

– Use facts, not threats:

Both parties typically come to a negotiation with different perceptions about interests, options and consequences. At times, you feel a need to challenge your counterpart’s perception of reality.

Because psychological safety is critical, do everything you can to share your understanding of the situation without triggering a perception of malicious intent. You can do this in three ways: Frame your statement as a natural consequence, not calculated revenge; don’t apologise for protecting your interests, but don’t relish your power to do so either; and press for dialogue, not concession.

Too often, we’re so focused on the substance of negotiations and not the human dynamics that drive it. But even small changes in your approach can change the outcome. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016

Joseph Grenny is the co-founder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training and leadership development company.


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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