Hunt & Associates P.C.

Negotiating? What’s Your Approach?

“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life. You discuss a raise with your boss. You try to agree with a stranger on a price for his house. Two lawyers try to settle a lawsuit arising from a car accident. A group of oil companies plan a joint venture exploring for offshore oil. A city official meets with union leaders to avert a transit strike. The United States Secretary of State sits down with his Russian counterpart to seek an agreement limiting nuclear arms. All these are negotiations.

Everyone negotiates something every single day.”

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In, Fisher and Ury (1984)

So, given that we all negotiate, take a moment to consider how you go about it. Do you, for example, have a particular method or approach you use when bargaining? If so, can your method be described in a few short sentences or phrases? Can you summon from memory the basic principles on which your framework rests? For most people, I’d wager, the answer to those questions would be “no.” Despite the frequency with which we all engage in some sort of bargaining behavior, most of us have never given much thought to any particular method or approach regarding how we negotiate. We proceed, instead, from one bargaining exercise to another, treating each one as a discrete, singular event, rather than adopting and honing a set of basic principles we can apply to each and every negotiation. We are not unique in this regard.   Many lawyers and business people who negotiate professionally lack any systematic, foundational approach to the negotiation process.

I will hazard to say that the majority of those who negotiate for a living tend to rely on their instincts when bargaining. They lack a prescribed format approach to the process and instead proceed in a more or less intuitive, ad-hoc manner. Sure, such an approach will often be sufficient to “successfully” conclude the negotiation by reaching an agreement. If your measure of a successful negotiation is one in which you are able to reach an agreement, then all is well and good. If, on the other hand, your aim in negotiating is to make a good agreement, then perhaps you would be better served by adopting a basic framework to rely upon in every negotiation you conduct.

What kind of framework? In that regard, you have many alternatives from which to choose. Conflict, it has been observed, is a growth industry, and the last twenty years have spawned a multitude of books, articles and seminars devoted to the subject of negotiation.  There is, for example, an approach referred to as “principled negotiation,” popularized in one of the classic texts on negotiations, Getting to Yes, in which the authors describe their suggested approach in four simple phrases.[1] As an alternative approach, consider another author’s approach, which he titles “the 5 golden rules of negotiation”.[2] You can conduct your own search for alternative methods, simply by doing an internet search for “methods of negotiation”. The point here is not that you adopt either of the above options, or some other approach; rather, the point is that you have a definite method you can utilize in every negotiation.

Without such an established framework, you are more likely to be exposed to the “people problems” which can arise in any negotiation. These problems include differences in perception and style of communication of the negotiators, and the differing mix of emotions which we all bring to the negotiating table. Having a framework from which to work can make the difference in allowing you to surmount these people problems. Without a framework, you are apt to become entangled by the different personalities and styles of negotiating you may encounter. Then, you risk winding up in a contest of wills, instead of working on a solution to the issue which brought you to the negotiation.

Take some time to think about developing a consistent approach to your negotiations. Having such an approach is more likely to result in your making good deals time after time, no matter the issues or personalities involved.

© 12/22/2015 Charles A. Ford of Hunt & Associates, P.C.  All rights reserved.

[1] The four elements are (1) separate the people from the problem; (2) focus on the underlying interests of the parties; (3) generate options with the other party to resolve difficult issues; and (4) if interests are directly opposed, use objective criteria to resolve the differences.

[2] Marty Latz, Gain the Edge. The 5 rules are (1) information is power –so get it; (2) maximize your leverage; (3) employ “fair” objective criteria; (4) design an offer-concession strategy; and (5) control the agenda.

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