Negotiating is in the news this year. Here are just a few of the articles that show up in a search of the words – women and negotiating.
(*Note: Women won’t be the only focus of this review. The focus will be on how we all negotiate things on a daily basis and a different way to look at those negotiations.)
What these articles stress is that women need help in deciding when and how to negotiate. And many need “training” to improve their negotiating skills.
This focus on negotiations is in part due to the push from women to address unequal pay in the workplace and the wage gap. And although these are incredibly important issues that need constant attention and long-term solutions, today’s review is going to look at negotiations in a broader sense.
If you’ve ever struggled to negotiate something or if you avoid conflict at all costs, read on.
You negotiate every day and might not even realize it.
Whether it’s with your kids over how late they can stay out, your spouse or partner over vacationing in the mountains or at the beach, your landlord over your rent increase, or your boss over a raise – you are negotiating all the time as you navigate through life.
Some people see negotiating as a win-lose scenario and people as soft or hard negotiators. When viewing negotiations this way, feelings can be hurt, and relationships harmed. Some people always seem to give in and while others stand their ground and won’t back down.
And you probably already know which end you are on in most negotiations. You either end up feeling taken advantage of, or you are the one who causes harm to the relationship in win-lose negotiating.
Getting to Yes is a book about principled negotiation. Fisher and Ury introduce an all-purpose strategy to be used by anyone who is working toward reaching an agreement with another party on a topic or issue.
It’s not a new book. As a matter of fact, it was initially published over 30 years ago, and it’s been updated and revised several times. I was assigned this book to read in my doctoral program. And although it was important in helping me lead as an educator, it was just as important in helping me address negotiations and conflict in my life.
The book is based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project – a program started in 1979 to improve the practice of conflict resolution and negotiation.
Their key point is that any negotiation should produce a wise agreement, efficiently, and amicably. You work to meet the legitimate interests of each party, resolve conflict fairly, and preserve or improve the relationship.
The Problem? We’ve Learned to Bargain Over Positions
Positional bargaining is our “go to” way to get what we want. You’re on one side, and I’m on the other. Can it work out? Certainly. The successive giving and taking until you end up agreeing on something can produce an agreement.
But you’ve done this before and know it doesn’t always produce a smart agreement. And it often isn’t an efficient or fair process. You may give in on what you really believe in to get it over with or to prevent hurt feelings. And in the end, relationships suffer.
As people get used to negotiating this way, they may even start the negotiation from a more extreme position – hoping that after the give and take, things will end up slanted toward their side. Think about a low-ball offer on a house, rather than a slightly less than market value offer.
And if you were like me, you may try to play the game as a soft negotiator to get the deal done. If you trust, make offers, disclose your bottom line, yield to pressure, seek what the other side will accept, and agree to one-sided losses – you will be vulnerable to hard negotiators. They want to win. They are adversarial, demand concessions, distrust, mislead, seek only what they will accept, apply pressure, and insist on your position.
Positional bargaining often leads to win-lose. And soft negotiators are the losers.
How Can You Negotiate Instead?
Fisher and Ury tell you to change the game. Try principled negotiating instead.
Here are the four points of this straightforward method to negotiate:
- Separate the people from the problem.
- Focus on interests, not positions.
- Generate a variety of options before deciding what to do.
- Insist the result be based on some objective criteria or standard.
The first point involves taking the emotion out of the communication. Think “the problem is the problem; the people aren’t the problem.” This helps remove egos from the negotiation. You are working together on the problem rather than attacking one another or your positions.
The second point focuses you on looking at what you want – what interests you, not where you stand. Once people take a stand on something, it’s hard to give in. The idea of “saving face” can get in the way and prevent progress on finding a solution.
The third point removes the pressure of looking at one solution as the answer. Maybe a collective agreement can be reached on an alternative you haven’t thought of because you are so stuck in win-lose and back-and-forth negotiations? Principled negotiations set aside time for you to be creative and explore more options.
The fourth point involves agreeing on a fair standard or set of criteria to base the negotiation on. Discussions then revolve around how the options being considered best meet the criteria or standard – not on what you’re willing to accept or give up.
Maybe you’ve already noticed this becomes negotiating on the merits rather than playing a game. A game you may never be successful at playing.
What Changes When Negotiating this Way?
You become flexible problem-solvers, not game players. And there is no winning and losing – you seek mutual gain whenever possible.
The book does a deeper dive into each of the four steps in principled negotiation. It gives plenty of examples of how it works and how it might benefit you – in your career and your life.
Will the points described in Getting to Yes always work? No. Successful negotiations depend on what you’re negotiating and who you are negotiating with. But it’s definitely worth a read to determine if this strategy is one that will save you time and energy as you work to address conflicts or negotiate issues throughout your life.
Written by Vicki