Problem-Solving through Negotiating: Lessons from “Getting to Yes”
As a small business owner you participate in negotiations every day. When you discuss your services with a potential client; when you correct problem behavior in a difficult employee; and when you and your managers strategize next year’s goals, you are negotiating. Building better negotiation skills is one way to improve management abilities and become a more effective leader in your organization.
In their definitive book on the subject, “Getting to Yes,” authors Roger Fisher and William Ury define negotiations as situations where two or more parties take positions, argue for those positions, and make concessions to reach a compromise. The authors provide many tips for navigating these sometimes difficult interactions, but here we outline two main principles that will help you become a more effective negotiator: emphasizing interests over positions, and making determinations based on objective criteria.
Interests over Positions
Fisher and Ury explain that, while parties define themselves by their different opinions (positions) on how a problem should be handled, what really matters is their interests. “We tend to assume that because the other side’s positions are opposed to ours, their interests must also be opposed….however a close examination of the underlying interests will reveal the existence of many more interests that are shared or compatible than ones that are opposed.”
Imagine you are trying to help an employee understand why their work needs to improve, but the employee does not see the problem. What are your interests in this scenario? You want your company to run smoothly. You want your services delivered with timeliness and quality. You want the security of knowing your employees will do their jobs well. How about the employee—what are their interests? Perhaps they do not fully grasp your perspective on the big picture of the organization, but they still have their own personal investments in the work. They have an interest in feeling secure and satisfied with their job. They want recognition for their hard work. They want to know they have the capability to complete their tasks. As their leader, it is likely that you want these things for your employee as well, and the employee can probably understand your interests in a well-run organization. Exploring interests will help you understand each other, find common ground, and develop creative solutions.
Ineffective negotiations devolve into battles of will, and the argument becomes “a contest of who can be the most stubborn.” It is unlikely that such a negotiation ends amicably, because it will only finish when one person gives into the other. Instead of focusing on willpower, effective negotiators use independent, objective criteria to formulate possible outcomes.
Let’s return to the example of a difficult employee. In a battle of wills, there are only two possible outcomes: the employee gives in to your will as the employer and changes their behavior, or they refuse to change their behavior and you give up trying to persuade them. In the first outcome, the employee is likely dissatisfied and may now perform negatively in other ways. In the second outcome, you are dissatisfied, and you may even have to formally reprimand or terminate this employee.
How might the use of objective criteria improve this situation? Let’s say you are negotiating with a driver with whom you disagree on the most optimum sweeping route. Your driver feels strongly that route A is faster because of traffic patterns, while you are sure that route B more efficiently accounts for the total distance between sweeping sites and the main office. In a battle of wills, you would argue that you are the boss and have the power to make decisions, while your employee would argue about being the driver and knowing the task more accurately than you do. Alternatively, you could agree on objective standards to reach a conclusion. Perhaps the driver takes route A one week and route B the next and keeps careful track of the total time to complete the jobs. If both parties agree on these criteria, the optimum solution will emerge not because one person overpowered the other, but because the data pointed you both in the best direction.
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Source: Fisher, Roger and William Ury. (2011). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In. New York: Penguin Group.