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Tag Archives: negotiation
We live in a fast-paced world. Face time is rare. The interactions we do have are quick, colored by time-pressure and the stress of everything else on our to-do lists. How does that affect the way we’re communicating with one another?
When time is a stressor, miscommunications are rampant. We’re quick to assume, and slow to question. We assume that if something affects us adversely that the person’s intentions must also have been adverse. That, or they’re just crazy. It’s much more efficient to just blame and demonize them than it is to try and unpack the complexities that might inform the situation. Our wants and needs are our sole focus. When we don’t achieve them, we become frustrated and even more fixated on everything that’s wrong with everyone else. We’re less likely to be looking for creative options that might address both parties’ concerns. We’re more likely to be positional – they throw up a roadblock, we want to throw up a bigger one. Frustrations boil. There’s no time to try and understand one another – and in fact, I’m so frustrated by them that I don’t even want to try.
And yet we know that all of these tendencies only compound the problem. How then, in all of this, can we still manage to communicate effectively?
Press pause – The instinct is to react. The client needs an answer, your colleague has just told you they won’t help, management is breathing down your neck. Fighting words are at your fingertips. Take that extra breath. Before firing off a response, think about the bigger picture. What is it you really want to achieve? How does this one interaction fit into the bigger picture? Do you really know what their intention was? Might there be a way that works for you both? Ask yourself these questions and then choose a purposeful response.
Make the investment – Negotiate how you’re going to communicate. One conversation about expectations and preferences (yours and theirs) can help avoid a whole host of miscommunication. If effective communication is about getting your message across, then knowing your audience and how they receive messages is key. What irks them? What do they think you mean? Take the time to clarify the intention behind your actions – making clear what you do and do not mean. You’ll reap the benefits of greater understanding and fewer messes to clean up on the back end.
Remember to appreciate – Each of us is only human. A bit of empathy for the situation or appreciation for someone’s effort can go a long way. A timely ’I know this isn’t the situation we hoped to be in. Thanks for hanging in there’ may be just the comment your team needs to power through and deliver. It’s low cost for you to make the comment and potentially high value for everyone involved. Hours of research and analysis may boil down to the two-line conclusion that pops up in your inbox. It may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but it was still someone else’s blood, sweat and tears (or it sure felt like it to them!) Recognizing the effort and expressing genuine appreciation will keep others motivated to continue to help you.
What else has worked for you? How do you manage the challenge of communicating in this fast-paced, high-stress world? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
We’ve all experienced that rush of blood to the head; that primal sensation when we feel wronged. Take the following examples:
- David’s colleague says at a sales meeting, “This week, I think I’ve managed to set new benchmarks for us as a team”. David grimaces, thinking to himself, “Who does she think she is, suggesting that she’s better than the rest of us?!”
- When Mary asks Steve, one of her team, for a copy of their proposal during a meeting with a key customer, Steve says that he didn’t bring a copy. Mary thinks to herself, “Typical, this guy has no idea how the business world works!”
- Wendy arrives home from a day at work, to find her partner’s breakfast dishes still strewn all over the kitchen bench. Her internal voice screams, “I can’t believe how lazy he is!”
All three examples demonstrate the sort of assumptions that we readily make about other people. Perhaps they are born out of a recurring pattern of similar behaviour from that same person. More often, however, these assumptions creep into our thinking because they’re easy to make. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the “fundamental attribution error” – in other words, a tendency to more readily explain away other people’s behaviours with what are called dispositional or personality-based assumptions.
By contrast, when the behaviour is our own (for example, if it was Wendy who had left dirty breakfast dishes on the kitchen bench), we’re more inclined to favour situational assumptions – ones that look to broader circumstances for a rational explanation. So, if Wendy were challenged on why she had left the breakfast dishes out, she might protest that she was under extra pressure to get out the door, the dishwasher was full, she forgot because she was under a lot of stress at the moment … and so on.
One version of this in negotiation culminates in writing off your counterpart as “irrational” or “deliberately obstructionist”. We commonly hear these terms being used to describe other people, but how often are they actually true? More likely, what we are observing is people coming up with easy (or even, lazy) ways of explaining behaviours they don’t like.
Take off the demonising goggles!
As a general caution, always check your assumptions about the other party before engaging in a difficult conversation or negotiation (take off those demonising goggles!).
A helpful way of doing this is to deliberately spend time asking yourself why the other person might be saying or doing the things that they are. Start off by allowing yourself to answer that question instinctively (which is more likely to air any demonising assumptions); but then change gears, asking yourself what explanations they might offer that would seem justifiable or legitimate to them. This might seem hard, so be disciplined: force yourself to actually write it down. It can also be very helpful to ask a colleague or friend to help you take the other person’s perspective, especially if you are feeling as though emotions and instincts are getting the better of you.
Of course, sometimes we’re in the heat of the moment and so don’t have the opportunity to prepare. Which is why it’s important to train yourself to recognise your instinctive impulses. What do you notice in yourself when you get upset – do you start making unkind judgments about the other person; does your heart beat faster; does your mouth go dry?
By better recognising those instincts, with practice you can train yourself to interpret them as signals to bite your tongue and take time out to think things through.
What about your own experiences: what works, and what doesn’t? We’d love to hear from you…
The CMA team
Senior Consultant Rebecca Stowe offers this advice on how to manage the dreaded “no” within a negotiation. Read what she has to say here…
Q. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to understand a customer’s needs and to come up with creative options, my counterpart rejects even my best offer and decides to go with our biggest competitor. What do I do when I am faced with a firm ‘no’ after ongoing attempts to come up with a deal that will be good for both of us?
Great question. You’ve described a very common dynamic in negotiations. The challenge is what do you do now? Should you just accept the rejection and not be too disappointed, knowing you haven’t agreed to something worse for you than your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (“BATNA”)? Or is there still scope for you to refine your options, or learn valuable lessons for future negotiations?
My advice is never let the negotiation end with a ‘no’. You may think the solutions you’ve suggested are the best ones to meet both of your needs, and often you will be right – but not always. It pays to check with your counterpart to find out why they’ve rejected your offer and what would it have taken to reach an agreement. Be sure to acknowledge their prerogative to walk away – if they give you a firm “no”, you want to be careful you don’t look like you refuse to take “no” for an answer. By acknowledging their right to say no, it makes it safer for them to answer your questions.
For example, you might want to ask, “Obviously we are very disappointed at not winning your business. Can you help me understand why you’ve decided to go with our competitor?” Or, “Can you help me understand what we would have needed to offer you for us to win your business?”
The answers to these questions will help you in three ways:
- You might find out that they have key needs/concerns that either you weren’t aware of, or perhaps ones that you assumed weren’t as high priority as others. Once you have this information, you may be able to re-open negotiations and put forward new solutions to meet these needs and as a result, win their business!
- You might find out that there was really no scope for you to create extra value without agreeing to something worse for you than your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. And in that case, you can confidently walk away from the negotiation knowing that you did everything you could to win the business. It’s important to recognise that sometimes it’s really better for both parties not to make a deal.
- The answer will also provide you with invaluable information about your competitor’s offering which may get you thinking about your product/service and what you could do to differentiate yourself in the market.
So next time you are faced with a “no”, make sure you follow up with some good questions. Great negotiators invest the time after the negotiations to review and reflect on the outcome and learn ways to improve for the future.