The Art of Negotiation Part 1: Focussing on the needs of the second party

In standard training on negotiation we are taught to separate our needs from wants and hence determine our minimum acceptable closing position or walk away decision.  We can come away with more, quicker, and with more good will if we focus our attention on meeting the second party’s needs.

Getting to yes - Tony Blair and the Good Friday Agreement
Getting to yes – Tony Blair and the Good Friday Agreement

The fundamental principle underpinning business negotiation is ‘willing seller, willing buyer’, yet a review of some trainings shows an approach close to coercion or bullying.  This is not too damaging if we are in a ‘zero sum’ or win / lose situation and are never likely to have to deal with the second party or any of their allies ever again, but in a joined up world where we bandy around the word ‘partnering‘, is it really worth the risk of winning the battle to lose the war?  And in most situations, we are actually in a ‘positive sum’ game, where correct actions can make the cake bigger, rather than squabbling over who gets the bigger piece of a shrinking and spoilt dessert.

Having been in the role of major bid manger responsible for bridging the gulf between my Hedge fund paymasters and public sector clients, stakeholder management has been one skill set that I have really had to hone.  Never more so than in negotiations where the public sector ‘partner’ was demanding ever increasing scope that the private sector provider was on the hook for paying for, while needing to keep down costs in order to make a margin to stay in business and keep its own employees in jobs.  The proverbial, ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’.  I use the term ‘partner’ lightly, as no partnership would have ever have made it to the alter had they treated each other with such contempt for each others needs and values.

With these experiences, I recently delivered training based on what is called ‘perceptual positions’, or first, second and third person perspectives.  To my surprise, most people have never even come across this concept, and many of those that have fail to master it or apply it.

This is not a theoretical approach, but rather modelled on those that have changed the world through negotiating seemingly intractable situations.  Before important meetings, Ghandi is said to have spent days sitting in turn in the chairs of respective national delegates and imagined what was going on in their situations and what would have value and meaning to them.  As he went round and the room he could fine tune is message until it had some resonance with the key players, knowing that most people are concerned with their own world and have little real interest in yours.  (What sales people refer to as the ‘what’s in it for me’ principle).

‘Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in their moccasins’

Similarly, Tony Blair, think of him what you might, managed to get factions shaking hands to secure peace inNorthern Ireland that for generations had been blowing up each other’s children.  Little wonder then that he was recently paid a reported £5M for a days work to close failed negotiations between mining conglomerates Glencore and Xstrata – perhaps cheap when considering they were looking to create a £100B+ merger.

When most people try this technique, at first they imagine what they would want.  Not a bad start, but we all have different world-views, needs and wants, values and behaviours.  We need to imagine that we are them, with their values and behaviours, world-view, aspirations and day to day pressures.  How does what we are saying feel to be them?

A second common pitfall is to try to imagine what the second party might say, a bit like playing out a courtroom dialogue or a soap opera sketch.  The permutations are infinite, so it is better to focus on how the other person will feel.  What would we, imagining ourselves as they, like to hear that accords with our (their) wants and needs and makes us feel a little better?  How could what we are hearing be phrased a little better to have more impact?

And the third person perspective?  How would the two sides appear to a fly on the wall?  Like two schoolchildren fighting over a bag of sweets until they all fall in the dirt and the situation ends in tears, or two adults trying to create value together?  How could this perspective help us to moderate what we have to say to be more reasonable and reach an accommodation sooner?

‘Never argue with an idiot, as bystanders have trouble working out who is who’

And so we come back around to the first person again.  With these new insights, how can we give them more value and meet their needs with what might cost us little to provide?  How does this make the second person feel, and how does it appear to the third person?

‘People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel’ Maya Angelou (poet)

Often, the sticking point of negotiations is not tangible assets but rather softer personal needs related to ‘the human condition’, such as the need to feel listened to, valued, contribution, significance, being liked and respected.  These can all be easily won with the right approach and equally easily lost by to indifference to create unnecessary barriers.

In the real world example that I started out with, length of contract provided security of revenue and lower borrowing costs for the private sector partner while a break clause meant it caused no additional cost or risk to the public sector partner.  Rather than provide many man years of support from Business Analysts to configure an ERP (SAP) solution, the same support could be provided post implementation to reconfigure the public sector client’s business processes to the system, instead of visa-versa, enabling the system to go in much quicker and at much lower life-time cost while the operating business realised process efficiencies much quicker, bringing benefits forward for both parties simultaneously.  All in all making a good start to what was named ‘Major PPP of the year’.

Not involved in negotiation?  Life is a negotiation, my friend.  Although I have been talking here about negotiating in business, all the same principles, approach, tools and techniques apply to our daily lives.  In both cases we should maintain our integrity and both parties should walk away content if not happy.

Look out for follow up parts on negotiation covering:

  • Negotiation with the help of the Nobel prize winners for behavioural psychology utilizing framing and priming
  • The role of trust, openness and goodwill.  Congruence in word and deed.
  • Chunking up to agreement
  • Find the accommodation, as compromise is lose-lose
  • Reaching agreement through specificity using the NLP meta-model
  • Matching language and behaviours to achieve rapport
  • Cultural dimensions and saving face
  • Assertiveness versus bullying or submissive behaviour
  • Modelling good negotiators – Total model for effective negotiation

Peak Performance will be running our next public 1 day negotiation training and development event on negotiation covering the above blog topics on Tuesday 11th December – contact us for more information.  Alternatively, speak to us about in-house trainings.

Keywords and tags: negotiation, perceptual positions, peak performance, Peter Parkes, NLP training, World view, PPP