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Reframing Negotiation: From Adversarial to Collaborative

Laura Depta
October 27, 2022
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Negotiation is part of so many communications we have in our personal and professional lives – everything from a performance review to a project meeting or even finalizing the guest list for your wedding can be considered negotiation. And because it touches so much of our daily lives, negotiation is also a skill we can and should work to improve – but how? 

Frame: Collaboration 

The first thing we can do to have more successful negotiations in all facets of life is to reframe our view of what a negotiation in fact is. Often, negotiation is seen as something inherently adversarial – two sides on a debate stage, or two parties with opposing views attempting to achieve a compromise. 

What if, instead of that debate stage, we saw an opportunity for collaboration? With collaborative negotiation, both parties have a common goal and seek to reach that goal by creating value for their counterparty. 

If you look hard enough, you can find common ground more often than you think during negotiations. Let’s say you want a raise but your manager doesn’t have the budget. On the surface, that seems like a conflict, right? Consider this. What you really want is to feel fairly compensated for your hard work so you can stay happy and fulfilled in your job. Odds are, your manager wants that too – a happy and productive employee satisfied with the work and compensation and therefore keen to stay at the company. Perhaps a negotiation between the two of you will result in some creative ways to up your compensation without requiring more salary – stock options, additional days off, etc. Win-win, right? 

Next, we’ll share some preparation and in-the-moment strategies to help your negotiation become a successful collaboration with win-win results. 

Prepare: Lead with Empathy 

The first step toward a successful collaboration is cultivating empathy. In fact, much of a collaborative approach to negotiation has to do with considering your counterparty – their values, perspective and goals. 

In Never Split the Difference, co-written by veteran FBI negotiator Chris Voss, the authors advocate getting to know the other side, most importantly, their emotions. Voss says, “Most of us enter verbal combat unlikely to persuade anyone of anything because we only know and care about our own goals and perspective.”

Voss specifically advises getting to know the person – their emotions and values – because those elements make up so much of the decision-making process. Voss says, “Work to understand the other side’s ‘religion.’ Digging into world-views inherently implies moving beyond the negotiating table and into the life, emotional and otherwise, of your counterpart.”

Prepare: Consider the Other Party’s Goals

In addition to their emotions, you also need to identify your counterparty’s specific goals, i.e. what they want out of the negotiation. Consider their needs objectively, and don’t make assumptions based on their personality or generalizations about them (“Jim always holds a hard line.”). 

Ask yourself the following: What is your counterparty’s: 

  • Best-case scenario? 
  • Worst-case scenario? 
  • BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement)? This is what they will do if the negotiation fails. For example, if you are a manager and a team member is coming to you for a raise, perhaps that person’s BATNA is the status quo. If they don’t get a raise, they will return to their job at their current compensation rate. Or, if negotiations break down, perhaps they will leave the company. Your team member’s BATNA will inform aspects of how you handle the negotiation. 

Once you’ve considered the above for your counterparty, of course, identify these elements for yourself too. Notice ahead of time where you see the potential for common ground, and plan for potential roadblocks or stalls in the negotiation. This type of preparation can help you navigate the negotiation more smoothly and ultimately achieve a win for both parties. 

The Negotiation: Asking Questions

During the negotiation itself, ask a lot of questions. You’ve done your prep work, but do you really understand the counterparty’s situation? Point of view? 

Asking questions during a negotiation goes back to not making assumptions about your counterparty. Coming in, you have a good idea what they might say or how they might react, but always remember you don’t know their motivations for sure unless you ask. So ask. 

Amy Gallo spoke to Linda Hill, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation for the Harvard Business Review and wrote:

“Hill says that it’s better to ask questions than make statements. Instead of thinking about what you want to say, consider what you want to learn. This will help you get to the root cause of the conflict and set you up to resolve it. You can ask questions like, “Why did that upset you?” or “How are you seeing this situation?” Use phrases that make you appear more receptive to a genuine dialogue. Once you’ve heard the other person’s perspective, Hill suggests you paraphrase and ask, “I think you said X, did I get that right?” 

Voss has similar recommendations regarding the types of questions to ask. He specifically recommends “how” and “what” questions. “How did you come to this decision?” “What led to this change in leadership?” 

Per Voss, “By implicitly asking the other party for help, these questions will give your counterpart an illusion of control and will inspire them to speak at length, revealing important information.” 

The basic idea here is to get your counterparty talking to even better learn about and understand their own motivations, desires, fears, etc.

The Negotiation: Active Listening

Ask lots of questions, and then listen intently to the answers. Even better, strive to become an active listener during negotiations. Active listening means making an effort to not just hear the words a person is saying, but to really understand the message they are trying to communicate. 

You do this by paying close attention. It sounds simple enough, but distractions happen so easily. Often, instead of truly listening to someone, we are forming a counterargument in our head or planning what we will say next. Indicate you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, making verbal acknowledgements (“uh-huh” or “I see”) and, you guessed it, asking questions about what the person has said. “You said X; can you tell me more about that?” 

Voss says, “This is listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person. Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

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The Negotiation: Strategies for Empathy 

Voss additionally recommends two strategies for cultivating empathy for the other party in your negotiation: 

Labeling: Directly address and name the emotions you believe the other person to be feeling. You might say, for example, “It seems you feel unsure about this approach.” This opens the door for the other party to better explain themselves and to feel seen and heard. You will also, in turn, gain a better understanding of their perspective.  

Mirroring: Simply repeat the last three words a person said. Or, repeat the last piece of important information. This is a form of active listening and shows a person you are truly engaged. For example, if your counterparty says, “We are going to apply this to next quarter’s goals,” you might say back to them, “Next quarter’s goals. Tell me more about your plans there.” 

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

In negotiation, like in life, making an effort to see another person’s point of view will go a long way to achieving a successful outcome for both parties. If both parties feel seen and validated, they will be more open to collaborative negotiation. 

Highrise leadership development training can help you learn to smoothly navigate all types of negotiations in your daily life. Reach out to us for more information here.

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Laura Depta
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Laura Depta is a Content Creator with Highrise. She specializes in mission-driven editorial work and has written for clients such as SAP, the Chicago Tribune and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.