Negotiating — and teaching negotiation skills to others — are two of my colleague Betsy Flanagan’s favorite things to do. Betsy was teaching negotiation to a group last week and was going through the 6 points of failure in negotiation, and something important emerged in the class. Betsy and I were discussing it and I wanted to share it with our wider community.
Here’s what it is: While some people are comfortable with conflict to varying degrees, many people are truly uncomfortable with conflict and are failing at negotiation for this reason. Betsy addressed this in the class by helping to shift the perspective on what conflict is and by reviewing again what negotiation is. And of course by using a basketball analogy (Betsy is a huge Golden State Warriors fan).
First of All, What is Negotiation?
A negotiation is a discussion for the purpose of reaching agreement when those involved have conflicting goals and vested interests that they are actively protecting or promoting. In a negotiation, the conflict lies in the different interests and goals of the parties involved, not in personalities.
When our goals and interests conflict, it doesn’t have to mean we are in a conflict.
Betsy Looks at It Like Basketball
Betsy looks at negotiation like playing a sport. She emphasizes that there’s a time and place for everything; there’s a time when competition is the norm and is expected. “When you step onto a basketball court,” she says, “everyone understands the rules. Competition is customary. You don’t step onto the court and shoot the basket for the other team.”
The same is true in negotiation, Betsy says. “It’s about understanding what’s appropriate in the situation. When it’s time to negotiate, everyone expects you to counter. I don’t dislike, distrust, or feel uncomfortable with my opponents in sports or in games just because we’re playing against each other, and the same holds true when I negotiate.”
The analogy isn’t perfect — in sports and most games there’s a winner and a loser, and in negotiation we are going for win-win. And of course the negotiations you’re involved in are real, not a game. But when Betsy talked about negotiation in these terms in the class, it was the aha moment some people needed in order to shift their view and approach.
Maybe the conflict aspect of negotiation doesn’t trip you up — it might even be your sweet spot. But if you’re like some others, this shift in perspective will have a huge impact on your success in your negotiations.
Betsy’s comfort level with conflicting goals is just one reason for her confidence when negotiating. Another reason is that she always trusts herself to uncover the underlying needs of the other party, which moves everyone to agreement faster. That will be the subject of a future post.
Negotiation is complex and there are many moving parts, but the more familiar we are with those moving parts, and the more perspective we can have on what negotiation is and isn’t, the more comfortable — and successful — we’ll be as negotiators.
Leave a comment or email us with any questions. Betsy and I would love to talk negotiation with you!