“Sometimes they can be just so stupid! Why does the other party act the way they do? Whatever happened to common sense?” It’s all too familiar. Another way to think of this is: “what am I missing?”

When ‘their’ behaviour doesn’t match our logic, its easier to call out their behaviour, take a superior position, than it is to face up to which of their needs we are failing to understand. The other party takes their own needs very seriously. The purpose of negotiations is to meet needs and resistance arises when needs are not being met. There might be resistance about “how much” is being offered, and resistance about “how” it’s being offered.

Some resistance is created during the negotiation, but the most obstinate resistance exists, with past history, before you even begin.

This is particularly evident during enterprise bargaining negotiations (EBAs). These can be bitter engagements, especially if past EBAs have run out of date, or outcomes are menial, and both parties are vengeful at the perceived unwillingness of the other parties to dance. It’s an old political narrative that can be difficult to soften.

Take for example, the decision by the business owner to invest in its own negotiation skills to assist with their EBA planning and teamwork. For a variety of reasons (e.g. fairness, professionalism, employee learning), they also offer this skills development to their EBA other party. Their response – a resounding ‘No!’

What is the basis of this resistance? Its not content ($), as its being offered for free, even as a gift if you like. The content of the negotiation has not yet been raised. So, here is resistance around the process. The corporate motives are mis-trusted, the independence of the consultant is mis-trusted. Mainstream corporate practice is treated with suspicion. In this case, the fear is that embedded in the skills development will be some kind of Trojan Horse, with some sneaky anchoring that will promote the needs of the giver.

So let’s draw on a classic for insight, (not some new fad). Dale Carnegie outlines the mentality of ‘giving’ in his 1948 book “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living”. Helping people can be awkward. That is, if you try to enhance a process, you are implying that ‘they’ need help, which could be seen as patronising or manipulative. The ego of the receiver is a challenge. Corporately, what would happen to their competitive narrative if they accepted help? How can it be so sacred as to defy a positive gesture?

The trouble with these dour narratives is that they completely refuse to concede anything positive. By definition we are enemies, adversarial just like parliament, and haven’t we all had enough of that shit? Haven’t we?

So when there is an opportunity to enhance our process, to reconsider our belief systems, to approach our other parties afresh, with the prospect of something new, why wouldn’t we try it? And if you are not looking for something new, you probably are not being aspirational enough.

To manage resistance around content:

  • Identify what you both agree on first (e.g. quality, safety, professionalism, football)
  • Create resistance (not deadlock) with your opening move. The absence of tension probably means neither party is working hard enough to create value.
  • Advocate for under-appreciated measures of value (beyond profitability and productivity to sustainability, reliability, customer experience).
  • Stay tentative/adaptive with your offers and counter-offers when you commence concession exchanges

To manage resistance around process:

  • Undertake negotiation skills development. Whether you are making money or minimising losses – you must negotiate. Invest in continuous improvement.
  • Prior to making offers (content), discuss end to end, how this negotiation might work: how many meetings, over what timeframe, where, when, the agenda
  • Offer process gifts – how can you manage the logistics for their convenience? When, where and how are cheap ways to build goodwill.
  • Acknowledge the positives in how the other party are trying to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Respect them.
  • Do your research. Smart people learn from the experiences of others. Tap your network. What outcomes have similar negotiations around you created (benchmarking), and how did they do it?
  • Soften your belief systems about the other party. The pain of negotiations that are fixed in old patterns can be suffocating. You can have good process, goodwill, and achieve mutual outcomes. It’s possible.
  • Manage up. Often it’s the stakeholders, watching the negotiating table, who are the most difficult to influence. Give those at the table reasons to change the narrative, and reasons to take on their own stakeholders.

If other parties misinterpret your desire to build good process, it’s not a good enough reason to do nothing. Process is king. This is where we need curiosity and genuine goodwill to engage with their resistance.

Peoples’ willingness to accept weak claims is big news at the moment. How do people differentiate between fake and real news? And if we are in a negotiation, how do we apply our bullsh!t meter to detect spin, distraction or straight deception?

From the other side of the table we might ask: how do we propagate inaccurate beliefs? How do we affirm a false sense of accuracy in their thinking? How do we promote ‘familiarity’ with something that’s not true? How can opinion defeat data?

Can you differentiate fake news from the real?

Research suggests people who overclaim their level of knowledge and display shallowness with analytical thinking have difficulty differentiating real news from fake news. The mediator of these choices is identity – how people see themselves. Fake news is counter-culture, a rebellion, a reflexive open-mindedness. Its base lies in the identity of victimhood, hence they choose tribalism over cooperation, opinion over data. If the fake news gives a voice, power, identity, then the data hardly matters. It’s harder for those people to tell the difference between real or fake news, and it suits them not to try too hard. Who published it can prompt blind allegiance. The familiarity of a headline or a sound bite, whatever its quality, can be enough to sway opinion, because the consumer’s identity has been affirmed.

Negotiation through the looking glass…

Consider the lenses of powerlessness or dominance, of religion or science, of isolation or community, of fear or aspiration. If I believe I am powerless (a victim), I may be seduced by conspiracy. If isolated (abandoned), seduced by a revolutionary cause. If fearful (vulnerable), by a fightback through anger. In this context, the ‘suspect’ social beliefs that people have can be writ large, and social media is an excellent medium for connecting them with each other.

Here are our key take-aways for the effective negotiator:

  • The content is incidental. All negotiators pursue outcomes that fit how they see themselves. This fires the narrative they want to tell when they leave the room. What story do you want them to tell?
  • Don’t play the cards dealt, play the person across from you. Who are they, what’s their story? Take the time to build a relationship during formal and informal time. Negotiators who don’t prepare, don’t ‘connect’, who just ‘get down to business’, are vulnerable to fake news. Their analysis will be too one-dimensional.
  • Observe breaks in continuity. What identity was trodden on or affirmed when the words turned red, the tonality became shrill, the body language big and close. Or when the words dried up, the tonality softened, and body language turned to stone.
  • Observe the incongruities. What does it mean when the words are cold behind the smile? When good questions are deftly avoided? When the data says one thing, and the rhetoric another?
  • Observe how your allies interpret fake news. Understand this is what they will offer you if your disagreements threaten them.
  • Prepare sound bites that will resonate with identity. Three-word slogans, whatever their content, have a habit of cutting through. “The most powerful force in the human psyche is people’s need for their words and actions to stay consistent with their identity – how we define ourselves”. (Tony Robbins)

In the end, all outcomes are driven by what people choose to believe. Looking at data through our different lenses and identities determines its meaning, and thereby the actions we take and the outcomes we achieve. Uncovering beliefs is one reason why we explore the other party’s mindset during pre-negotiation, and invest in open questions in our negotiation process.

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.