In a recent Tidbit titled “Negotiations and the right to veto I: Consider your options before sitting down at the negotiation table” we introduced the definition of a negotiation as “the effort between two or more parties to reach an agreement, each party having the right to veto.” and started exploring the consequences of the mentioned right to veto for both parties. Last time we focused on your right to veto and emphasized the importance of being well prepared for a negotiation, having a detailed and realistic BATNA ready and unpacked before your inner eye and alluding it to the other party - and making sure to never negotiate your most desirable deal first. In this section, we will focus on the other side of the coin: the other person's right to veto, and with that, their BATNA.
Hardly ever will you find professional negotiating partners who are not aware of their BATNA: selling that car to a different customer, finding another member for the gym, or hiring a different candidate. Suddenly, it seems that, although having realized your BATNA, you are no longer at an advantage. The key to keeping your advantage based on your BATNA is threefold: mention your BATNA early without threatening the other party, being aware of their BATNA by doing research before entering the negotiation, and making sure they don't have a reason to execute their BATNA: make them stay at the table and give them something to win in the negotiation. Because, another statement that I hold dear: “If you don't give them anything to win, they may as well walk.”
Nevertheless, their win should not be mistaken for your loss. To ensure you will still get to the goals you laid out before entering the negotiation, let’s consider two strategies of giving them a reason to stay at the table, and with that giving you a chance to reach agreement without giving up your objectives while reaching an agreement that is favourable for you.
Sounds good, but how does one actually do this? The key observation is that positions (“I want … “) are only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the surface lies a diverse manifold of underlying interests that need to be uncovered (“I want, because …”). Interests fuel positions. So instead of rejecting a given position that may not coincide with what you aimed for, try hard to understand the underlying interest which may also be met by a deal struck up slightly differently, deviating from their position and opening up a vast space of options to reach an agreement that is mutually satisfactory.
To uncover underlying interests, questions are your friend. Ask a lot of them, in a problem solving manner (“Why, What if, What is your advise, What makes this fair, …), and be certain to always formulate them openly. This way, you and the other party can engage in joint problem solving, and become partners in uncovering a deal that brings you way beyond your respective BATNA.
Moreover, keep in mind that there is much more to a negotiation than the factual level. There is always a wide variety of interests of the other party you can meet without even giving in on the facts - but rather with taking extra care of their personality, of their needs and fears beyond the factual outcomes of the negotiation. If you managed to execute joint problem solving and expanded the pie in a satisfactory manner for both you and them as a first step as suggested above, it is quite likely that you are at a point in the negotiation process at which facts aren’t even that important anymore. You can ensure mutual satisfaction by going beyond the factual level and consider things such as their pride. And if that doesn’t seem to work just yet: go back and dig deeper into the sea of interests and come back to this later.
Does the other party, by now a partner in the process of joint problem solving, maybe feel like the proposed agreement is too much of yours and too little of their idea? Make sure to let them make the final decisions, and involve them in the process of drawing up the agreement in order to make sure the deal also feels like their idea. Do they feel like too much is happening too fast? Give them the time they need, and adjust the speed while you go along. Is there a fear of losing face, in front of their superior, their family, or some other person that is important to them? Build them a golden bridge helping them save face and find an answer to the unavoidable “What is in it for me?” question, and ultimately, make it possible for them to give their final blessings to the what you spent so much time and effort negotiating.
With these two strategies, which may be summed up to “be hard on the facts, but soft on the people,” you are sure to use the time you bought at the negotiation table by giving the other party a reason to stay to reach an agreement that is better than your BATNA - and with a little bit of practice and feedback it will certainly be much better than your and also their alternatives.
One more closing remark on Jim Camp, the author of the definition that sparked these thoughts on negotiation: complementary to William Ury, who we learned to be a strong advocate of “Win-Win” approaches, creating mutual value gain, Jim Camp’s signature phrase and the title of a book rebutting Ury’s ideas is “Start with No.”. It is remarkable that, although Camp is a supporter of hardball negotiating, Camp’s definition made us end up with a lot of Ury’s ideas. For me, this is a strong indicator that neither theory is viable on its own, given the variety of negotiations you will find yourself engaged with in your personal and professional life. Rather, to be a skilled and versatile negotiator, you need to be familiar with both schools of negotiation, and learn to decide which aspects of either one to use in any given situation.
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