I’ve been interested in negotiation strategy for a while. In some ways it embodies many characteristics that are rare in scientific research, with a focus on human interaction and an unambiguous concluding point where success can be measured relatively directly. I can understand why some people thrive on it and why some people are terrible at it. It has more in common with courtroom battles than the scientific method, yet it has significant room for innovation to take play.
There was an interesting article a month ago in the Harvard Business Review on negotiating that caught my eye. The authors outline basic principles from their new book, Negotiation Genius, that provide guidance towards understanding the person/company with whom you are negotiating.
I found this article interesting because it gives more than the basic negotiating advice of understanding your counterpart so that you can drive to a win-win scenario. This basic win-win approach is, of course, an important concept to start with because people often approach negotiations as a poker game where one is trying to win as much of the pot as possible while not reveal any of their cards, with the assumption that the other side is playing the same game and trying to win as much as they can at your expense. The false assumption with this approach is that only way to win is for the other side to lose. The first step towards a successful negotiation is to realize that to be successful, both you and your counterpart must achieve your separate goals—hence, the win-win objective.
One has to understand the objectives of the other side to know what a win-win is, and the authors of this article expand upon this concept by pointing out that often negotiations stall because one side makes incorrect assumptions about the needs and motivations of the other side. The authors provide a few case studies that they have developed to test business students in which the majority of the students make wrong assumptions and therefore drive the negotiations to solutions that cannot succeed:
They are solutions to a problem that has not been diagnosed.
The authors outline how to conduct investigative negotiation, their term for the active pursuit of information about the needs of one’s counterpart in the negotiation. The five steps that they outline are (in their words):
- Don’t just discuss what your counterparts want—find out why they want it
- Seek to understand and mitigate the other side’s constraints
- Interpret demands as opportunities
- Create common ground with adversaries
- Continue to investigate even after the deal appears to be lost
The authors provide business case examples for each of these steps that make them more intuitive. They finish with tips on how to get information out of distrustful negotiators who don’t readily explain the reasons behind their own negotiating position. All very useful stuff.
Some of this reminds me of the work of Vantage Partners, a consulting firm with origins at the Harvard Law School when the founders were asked by the Carter administration to help with negotiations between Israel and Egypt at Camp David in 1979. Their directors have published several books, including Getting to Yes. Vantage stresses the need for a thoroughly understanding of the motivations on the other side, and emphasizes the possibility that each side has a different set of values that is driving their behavior. Vantage has expanded their expertise to business collaborations, explaining with data why collaborations between different businesses typically fail, and providing guidance on how to conduct a successful collaboration. There is a set of white papers from Vantage Partners on these topics that I highly recommend, including a huge set on managing alliances.
Buy the Investigative Negotiation article here from Amazon: