In his classrooms at West Point and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Jeff Weiss teaches complex negotiation strategies, but he bans the word “compromise” because he doesn’t want his students to think negotiation is “a game of creating concessions to drive compromise.” Thinking this way, he tells OPEN Forum, leads to very unsatisfactory results.
In fact, Weiss—a partner at Vantage Partners, a global consulting firm that specializes in negotiations, partnerships and organizational transformation—doesn’t think trading back and forth or splitting the difference is negotiating at all. It’s haggling, and by haggling, both parties usually walk away feeling as if they compromised too much. That's because what most people think of as negotiating is actually "positional bargaining," which is acceptable to use during simple transactions but is a “very dangerous way to negotiate,” according to Weiss, when the stakes are high, such as when you’re leading troops through a war zone or negotiating a risky business deal.
Instead, Weiss says people should approach negotiations in a systematic, disciplined way that requires adequate preparation. "I believe that disciplined negotiators don't aim to compromise," he says. “They aim to be—and are—creative. The more disciplined you are in your strategy, the more creative your solutions."
Below, Weiss lays out the five key components of successful negotiations.
1. Build Relationships, Gain Trust
You can’t prepare for negotiations without first building and managing relationships. After all, why would your counterpart tell you what they really want if you don’t have a good relationship with them? You should also think about building and maintaining trust when coming up with your creative solutions. Will throwing money at the problem build trust? Probably not, but understanding why more money is needed will help you negotiate more successfully.
"Remember that your purpose is to understand their purpose," Weiss says. Keep in mind that true negotiation takes time and discipline. It’s about getting to know the other party and understanding their point-of-view and their tactics.
2. Truly Understand the Other Party’s Interest
Before you can come up with solutions, you first need to understand your counterpart’s true interest. Listen carefully to them so instead of knowing what they want, you can understand why they want it.
If you can’t quite figure out what their real interests are, Weiss advises you do a little research by talking to their friends and colleagues. Then, by the time you get to the negotiation meeting, you should have a few ideas of what you think they want. Tell the other party your hypothesis, then ask them to fill in the blanks.
3. Be Creative About Options and Solutions
When you're starting to determine one another’s interests, you’re trying to better understand the problem at hand. The more engaged you are in this problem-solving process, the more creative you'll be with developing solutions that work.
“You need to be creative,” Weiss says, “and you need to be able to appeal to outside standards.” Without creativity, you'll likely stick with the standard way of solving problems, which often leaves at least one party very unhappy. If you want to satisfy both parties, you need to think outside the box to come up with inspired solutions.
After you've both decided on some options, you need to truly examine and investigate the legitimacy of each one to determine their viability. No matter how creative your options are, they won’t keep the problem at bay for long if they don't consider the underlying motivation of each party.
4. Know When You’ll Walk Away
Before the negotiation meeting takes place, you should know at what point you’ll walk away because if you’re unsure and you get past that point, turning around can get messy. If you adequately do your research, you should have a basic idea of what that point is for the other person as well. When you know both parties’ walk-away points, you'll also have a better idea of what both parties truly want from the agreement.
5. Manage Conversations and Differences
One of the biggest obstacles with negotiations is when different cultures and customs are involved. Weiss offers an extreme example: If you’re in a war zone and trying to negotiate with someone whose customs you’re unfamiliar with, it can be easy to offend them without realizing it.
Eliminate this risk by understanding those differences before going into negotiations. If the conversation gets out of control, you need to manage it. When conversation stalls, you need to find new methods of moving it along. If you don’t like the way the negotiation is being played, change the game. "Whatever you do, be humble, because people—no matter what situation they’re in—simply want to be understood," Weiss says.
"Whether you’re dealing with high-profile businesspeople in the boardroom or high-stress situations on the battleground," Weiss says, "the core of negotiation is the same—get to know the other party, put yourself in their shoes and get creative with your solutions so that the end results can have lasting effects."
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