“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 These can be bitter engagements, especially if past EBAs have run out of date, or outcomes are menial, and both parties are vengeful at the perceived unwillingness of the other parties to dance.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.