Pillars of Negotiational Wisdom

Negotiating is an art practiced by virtually everyone; it is a craft practiced by few. There are many techniques to making negotiation work. If you pay careful attention to the following factors, which I call the Eight Pillars of Negotiational Wisdom, you should find that negotiating, with all the stakeholders who are clamoring for your attention, will yield more efficiency, less stress, and greater long-term success.

  • Be Conscious of the difference between positions and interests. If you can figure out why you want something – and why others want their outcome – then you are looking at interests. Interests are the building blocks of lasting agreements.
  • Be Creative. Anyone can do things the same old way. Using brainstorming techniques, listening to outlandish proposals and opening up to unanticipated possibilities expands agreement opportunities. If you respond with new ideas and do the unexpected, you can open doors to far greater gains than when you behave predictably. Creativity can make everyone look good.
  • Be fair. If people feel a process is fair, they are more likely to make real commitments and less likely to walk away planning ways to wriggle out of the agreement. Sometimes things are helped when a neutral, external authority is used to measure fairness – a dictionary, a lab test, or an academic article, for instance.
  • Be prepared to commit. You shouldn’t make a commitment unless you can fulfill it. Your commitment isn’t worth much unless the parties to the negotiation are Drop-Dead Decision-Makers. Moreover, commitment is not likely to result unless all parties feel the process has been fair.
  • Be conscious of the importance of the relationship. Most of your negotiation is with repeaters (people you run across time after time such as your spouse and kids). The same is true for borrowers, directors, and representatives of affiliated institutions. If you understand the relative priority of the relationship, it can be easier to know when giving on a particular point may yield short term costs but long term gains.
  • Be aware of BATNAs. BATNA stands for the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Your BATNA is the situation you want to improve by negotiating with a given party or set of parties. If you can improve things on your own, you don’t need to negotiate. But BATNA is not your bottom line. It is a measure of the relative value of negotiating a particular issue with a particular party — or whether you can fall back on better alternatives.
  • Be Prepared. In order to negotiate effectively, efficiently, and wisely, it is crucial to prepare. Your job is not to outline a perfect, total solution; that would be a positional approach. Preparation means studying the interests and BATNAs of every possible party. It means understanding the short and the long term consequences you use and the substantive results you pursue. Doing your homework can save a lot of time.
  • Enhancing Negotiation Skills is an important element of personal development. Helping your colleagues and staff to negotiate better will save time, reduce stress, and increase productivity. The changing cast of stakeholders means that successfully negotiating the minefields in the business world can be crucial to your own health and success.

As you consider the brief lessons contained herein, it makes sense to remember the old story about the New York tourist. She asked a passerby,
“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The response:
“Practice, Practice, Practice.”

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