You hear your morning alarm and you begin a conversation with yourself: “Should I get up now, or give myself a few more minutes?” While packing your lunch for work, you discover there’s only enough of that favorite leftover for one meal, but there are two other people packing lunches, too. So you have a conversation to determine who gets what today. At work, co-workers propose a different strategy for attacking the new project and clients request unprecedented modifications to a major proposal. Meetings with stakeholders follow to understand needs and determine the best approaches. All day long, you are engaged in an important activity with yourself, your family, coworkers, and customers or clients: Negotiation.
Negotiation is an important part of every day. From the insignificant (sugar or NutraSweet in my coffee) to the life-changing (which college to attend or job offer to accept), you are weighing the pros and cons of multiple options. For the most part, we take negotiation activity for granted simply because it’s something you do every day, all day long.
Ambiguity and Risk
In negotiation, you rarely have all of the information, and you never know the actual outcome of any given choice. Because of this, your tolerance for ambiguity and risk plays a big role in how you handle negotiation. Those who have high tolerance tend to approach significant negotiations with energy and excitement about what might come of this process. Those who are less tolerant are very cautious and even fearful when negotiating, depending on the situation.
Depth of Relationships
How you handle negotiation is not entirely dependent on your tolerance for ambiguity and risk, though. Another significant factor is your relationship with others. The two most important dimensions in these relationships is how well you know them and how safe you feel with them. How well you know the others, whether you understand their values and priorities, has a dramatic impact on negotiation. (Oddly, when it comes to negotiation conversations in the family, where we presumably know others extremely well, most of us are very ineffective in healthy negotiation. My theory is that our own selfishness tends to derail good negotiation practices.)
Your knowledge of what makes others tick helps you frame opportunities and options in the context of others’ real and perceived needs. Too often, when negotiating at home or work, we address the issues in terms of what is important to ourselves, not others. Frankly, most people don’t care what’s important to you. So when you address your concerns in a manner that acknowledges others’ values and priorities they feel their needs are being acknowledged. This has a powerful effect on negotiation.
The other dimension of relationships that impacts negotiating with others is how safe you feel with others. Put another way, do you trust them? Trust is critical in negotiation because the process inherently involves compromise, a certain level of transparency, and the belief that others will follow through on their commitments. All three of these are enhanced and supported by a foundation of trust. If you remove trust from the relationships, it is hard to have confidence that the compromises are genuine, the transparency is real, and that the follow through will happen. If you do not trust people you negotiate with, this is the first problem you need to address. Until trust is established, it will be difficult to conduct any effective negotiation!
I plan to follow up this article with more on negotiation, but I would like to hear what you have learned about negotiation. I’d like to hear especially from you about negotiating with yourself and about how the strength of relationships influences negotiation.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “handshake” by buddawiggi. Available at Flickr.com.