Once upon a time… A tale.
There were two sisters and one orange. Each wanted the orange for herself. After much bickering and unpleasantness, they decided the only fair resolution was a 50-50 compromise. They cut the orange in half. One sister made orange juice and threw away the rind. The other sister made orange bread from the rind and threw away the pulp. Each sister half-won and half-lost. The orange was half-wasted. What could have happened if they’d tried to negotiate?
What is negotiating? It is an interactive decision making process where both negotiating partners meet their interests. It is a type of presentation that requires particularly careful preparation because we anticipate differences of perspective or opinion, perhaps even conflict. An effective negotiating process, in fact, helps prevent conflict. The desired outcome is a meeting of the minds with a mutually agreed-upon plan of action.
The benefits of good negotiating are:
Increased trust and respect. Both negotiation partners openly exchange thoughts without judgment, accusation or hidden agendas. Best mutual outcome. Both negotiation partners win. Solutions are well thought out and meet the interests of both.
Excellent long term customer relations. We are most comfortable with people, personally and professionally, when we are confident that we can work out our differences. Customers stay with businesses that have their best interests at heart.
The Interrogative Negotiating Strategy is a system for planning and conducting all types of negotiations. Family members have different ideas about where to travel together this year. People we work with have different ideas about what is best.
Why interrogative? James Thurber said “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” We negotiate because there is no mutually obvious answer. We have to examine a scope of considerations to arrive at the best solution. We have to ask the right questions and generate creative possibilities. This four step strategy asks questions to get to the heart of negotiating quickly, positively, creatively and decisively.
Step 1: What is your interest? What is your negotiation partner’s interest?
The most successful negotiations consider the interests versus the positions of the negotiating partners. “Position” means what you want. “Interest” means why this is important to you. Negotiating from “position” is a good way to start conflict immediately. Witness the Orange Sisters − “I want that orange!” “No! I want it more than you do!” Had they asked “Why?” there would have been an instantly obvious solution and two completely happy sisters.
Step 2: What are the matches? What are the gaps?
It seems intuitive to begin a negotiation with points of disagreement, or “gaps”. After all, the gaps are what we are negotiating about. We tend to assume the similarities need no discussion. Therefore our stance with our negotiating partner is off to a contentious start. When we examine “matches” first, we are likely to discover that we have many shared interests. We are largely on the same side of the fence. Now we are partners who can examine the gaps from a base of commonality.
Step 3: What are the possibilities? What are the limitations?
When we move from gaps to solutions, we limit our thinking to the obvious. In this step, brainstorm without solution. Again, start with the positive − possibilities. Build on the matches. Be clear about limitations. Do not set the stage for unrealistic expectations.
Step 4: What are the action options? What are the criteria for choosing? What actions to take?
Still brainstorming, what are all possible actions? Evaluate those actions in light of your and your negotiating partner’s interests, i.e. your criteria for choosing a solution. A selection grid with your interest criteria across the top and actions down the side gives you a clear visual to narrow and select your actions. Prioritize the criteria. Now you can select the action items that satisfy the most important criteria.
At the end of this process, you and your negotiation partner have mutually decided on a solution satisfying both of your interests. All you have to do is take the actions you have selected. You may want to set a time to follow up with each other, to make sure all is going according to plan and to tweak your solution as needed.