To ‘win’ in a negotiation, you must be in control.

Is this true?
(Yes…business requires strong leadership)

Is this absolutely true?

Well, sometimes strong leaders fail. Control can’t be effective in every situation, can it?

Most business negotiations will be about 3 things: the returns to the business, the management of risk, and the security of sustainable relationships.

There is no balance sheet for relationships, they are intangible, and rarely do stakeholders complain about damage to the relationship when the good deal is sealed. This appears to encourage ‘pragmatic’ negotiators to ignore relationships, say they “just want to get down to business”, and dominate the process. They believe too that relationships can be dominated as well.

As a parallel, compare gravity to relationships. When we fly, do we dominate or control gravity? We have learnt its principles, we fear it, we take advantage, but do we ever become the boss of it? We never have control. Gravity both liberates and restrains us. Gravity is very predictable, but relationships are not.

It’s an old NLP metaphor that says ‘if you kick a bowling ball, science can tell you how far and in what direction it will roll. Kick a dog (please don’t), and you have no idea what it will do, or where it will end up.’ Treating relationships mechanically is an error of classification if you like, (people are not machines), hence the perilous nature of trying to dominate or control people.

Don’t be so certain of what you want, that you wouldn’t accept something better.

What do controllers in negotiations do? Dictate what people can and cannot say, tell them what to do, or not. Demand a certain set of outcomes, or else. Talk, not listen. Live entirely within the comfort zone, and stress when they get near the edges. They are driven by the tyranny of outcomes (content) and over-compensate by deciding that their methods (process) are the only ones that could possibly get them what they want. Ambiguity is right out.

The concept of control swings between the extremes of “I’ll have everything 100% my way” to its opposite, the very passive “you can have everything 100% your way”. And while these are extremes, to keep perspective, occasionally these are useful options. But not all the time, and certainly not out of habit. We get to know people through their habits, or behavioural patterns. These can liberate us or restrain us.

WHO do we become when we MUST have control?

The root of the need for control lies in anxiety, or neuroticism to use the formal psychological term. If we don’t control, something bad will happen. Simple as that. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, suggests in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ that humans are fundamentally unable to understand and accept the lack of control we have of our lives.

So what behavioural patterns are we talking about? Make a list – distrustful, dismissive, arrogant, judgmental, micro-managing, prescriptive, tiresome, repetitive, stagnant, predictable, lonely. We could go on. And all because we ourselves felt vulnerable, matters were ambiguous, and there was another human being involved who won’t just ‘go along’, like the bowling ball.

WHO does the other party become?

Dominating leaders create professional nodders of agreement, mindless doers without initiative, compliant. Controlling domestic relationships too often create a victim. Controlling parenting relationships can lead to adolescent submissiveness or rebellion. Controlling infant relationships at times are necessary for safety – but adults don’t like being treated as children. Controlling negotiators create resistors, the same deal as last year, win/lose outcomes, and hostages as clients.

We generally end up preferring relationships that people choose to be in, and want to be a part of. Gravity can be exhausting, but cannot be ignored. It is tempting at times to take relationships for granted when we feel the need to ‘cut through’. It’s not worth it.

So what can evolving negotiators do:

  • Take pre-negotiations seriously. Get to know the other party during preparation. Regard people as a source of information, not just as adversaries.
  • Collaborate over the agenda.
  • Invite others to make their recommendations – “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
  • Leading doesn’t mean controlling. Control is not bad – its just an option. Create options for solutions – there are many paths up the mountain.
  • If feeling controlled, create a deadlock, in order to remind the other party of their vulnerability. This doesn’t mean you’ve wrested away control, you’ve simply made control mutual – probably a good thing.
  • Plan concessions. Show flexibility in what you are willing to concede and accept.
  • Pay attention to your fears (of loss of control) – accept them – what actually would the consequences be of the different possible outcomes? Name them, sort through them, don’t just reflex away from them.

The irony of negotiators who demand to control the outcome (content-addicts) is that what they often fear most is the vulnerability of taking a risk and the emotion of failure. Gravity has taught us the risk is worth it.

Whilst competencies describe behaviours a company wants, none of them describe the human engine-room that powers their use. Mental health awareness is reminding us of first principles. If we’re not mentally healthy, corporate competencies are irrelevant – they are not available to the person trying to apply them.

Behavioural competencies were designed to measure the human being as a resource. But stress didn’t fit. Stress claims in the 80’s were seen as malingering (the mental equivalent of the bad back), punishable by bullying. Beating stress with clear performance definitions were partly what competencies were for.  Chronic stress was deemed to be a sign of incompetence and a personality flaw – instead of what we now know it to be – a warning sign of someone approaching their unique human limits. And having mental human limits were worthy of condemnation. A broken leg was easy to understand. Anxiety or depression were deliberate evading of accountability.

We know better now. The Beyond Blue National Workplace Program is a good example of assisting many companies taking the first step of raising awareness. What next?

Coping skills – such as exercise, diet, social support, optimism, constructive self-talk, sense of humour, community engagement – (everything my mother taught me – ‘sheesh – she was right’.)

Can you see these coping skills explicitly on your current learning and development menu or social calendar? Do they fit there? What about their opposites – how would you corporately address these – wishful thinking, tension reduction/diversions, avoidance, self blame, isolation?  At present, many companies delegate these needs to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), or to professionally unqualified consultants in generic training sessions, or to lunchtime opt-in sessions.

EAP is now looking dated – regarded as crisis prevention by most and stigmatised because of it. Workplace chaplains also present as a relic of a questionable religious era, where good intentions mattered more than skills, and stigmatised because of it.

(There are plenty of good and capable people in these roles – I refer in general to how the roles came into being and have not since adapted, or been effective in reducing stigma in many workplaces).

The key messages for mental health are:

  1. make it safe to talk about’,
  2. let people know they are not alone’, and
  3. lead people to help’.

All of which can only happen if we bring service delivery of these needs out into the open. EAP is confidential, mostly appropriately, but inaccessible for many. In some companies, users still need to ring HR to get the EAP phone number. No-one wants to appear to be in crisis, (except those actually in crisis and who don’t care). The rumour mill runs rampant if anyone is sighted making use of them, and punishes those who risk the stigma. And since when is psychology relevant only to those in crisis?

Admitting to a mental struggle can feel like the first step towards voluntary redundancy – the ultimate career-limiting move.
Trust around mental health is in dispute. Companies get confused which to address first – mental health or poor performance. If companies only ‘see’ people who struggle when they underperform, then trust is compromised – its already too late.

Until we can accept that genetics and lifetime upbringing/experiences mean mental health problems are to be expected for many in our population, and in our employee list, trust cannot start.

To this point, many companies have said – ‘leave your troubles at the door’. Perform or go. But now there are so many people struggling – not just the “failures” but the elite as well – that companies are re-assessing what to do (we’re still at awareness phase for many).
Its normal to know someone who struggles.
Its normal to eventually have to performance-manage someone who struggles if there is no intervention. Doesn’t mean its easy, but we can learn some lessons.

So what to do?

  • Go here for 10 things companies can do, at the HeadsUp website
  • Bring mental health into the mainstream – not just in our spare time. Could a preventive mental health lifestyle become a corporate incentive – a basis for financial reward? If you keep yourself healthy, you get this… as well…
  • Could we add value by populating our L&D menu with e.g. the 3 pillars – sleep, diet, exercise? How much do you know about the science of sleep? Not only passively offering a gym membership, but a coach as well – for everyone? Lunchtime chef instruction? What about parenting, grief, nurturing artistic skills and languages, book clubs, or mindfulness, or how to be a comedian? Many companies have already started.
  • Build into your corporate values – along the lines of –  we take pride in our achievements, and support people whatever challenges they face; we’re an employer of choice, because we build community, build human skills, not just employee skills.
  • remodel EAPs – rename it for a start – to embrace everyday challenges – not just crisis, delivered with more client control.

What step does your company need to take next?

The purpose of these early blogs around languishing and starting something is to create a personal recognition. These are light on content, not to educate, but hopefully to needle a little, helpfully. To give courage to those, conducting their own private negotiations on how well they are going. To recognise that if they are having the negotiation, then they are the ones this is for.
A bad day is a long way from a slump. A slump is a long way from a disorder. A slump is normal, as long as you come out of it. How long have you been in that slump?

Ask yourself the questions… “when was the last time I….?” and fill in the blank:

  • laughed loud and long;
  • exercised to a sweat;
  • felt deeply content beside your partner;
  • went a week without alcohol (just to see if you can);
  • learned something totally new;
  • planned your eating;
  • spent great time with your kids, on their terms
  • was thrilled by your work;
  • did something you didn’t want to do, but did it anyway, because you knew it matteredThese are the normal life challenges and rewards. None of them are essential, but all of them are healthy.
    How satisfied are you right now? Or are you conceding, perhaps, some things could be better… you know, I’m not at my best, but things are ok, its not urgent.

    Its you – you’re the one I’m after. Life can be better than you dreamed possible.