Have you ever entered a conversation to sort out a problem, to come to an agreement about some problem, and walked away thinking, “How did that happen? I got nothing!” Or perhaps your self-talk was, “I agreed to what? I told myself I would never do that!” You’re not alone; we all have those experiences. In most cases, the problem is that you weren’t prepared. You didn’t have a clear understanding of what was important to you.
Last week I drew attention to the fact that you are almost constantly negotiating with others, and yourself, all day long. Almost every decision you make is built on a process of evaluating pros and cons, risks and benefits, trade-offs and investments, all to create a better living condition for yourself and others. The effectiveness of negotiation depends on a number of factors. In my previous article, I explored how your tolerance for ambiguity and risk affect how you negotiate. Another important factor is the quality of your relationships with others and how much you trust them.
In addition to these, a factor that people rarely consider in negotiation is how well you understand yourself. Your own values, needs, and goals should be the foundation of your approach to negotiation. Whatever the situation, the outcome of that negotiation will have a direct or indirect influence on your own life situation. Don’t you want that to be consistent with your values, needs, and goals?
What’s important to you? Do you value equity and fairness above competition and survival of the fittest? Is ecology a driving factor in how you think? Maybe you want creativity and entrepreneurship to be supported by these outcomes? Maybe the negotiation calls for more specific and situational values. Perhaps John’s health is paramount over the project deadlines. In another situation, Rosa’s education might be the value that supersedes scheduling priorities.
When you enter any negotiation, you must first know what you value. Something I’ve said many times before is that it is impossible for you to act contrary to your actual values, so when you negotiate, it helps to consciously identify what you value. Have a clear handle on what it is that drives how you think and act. Write down your values and attach one-sentence definitions to each. (Keep in mind that each negotiation situation might have a unique set of driving values. Refresh your list for each situation.)
In negotiation, you also need to have a clear understanding of the true non-negotiables—those things on which you will not compromise. Be careful to differentiate between what you cannot give up and what you would like to hold on to. I’m not going to get into the process of negotiation and address when and how to address your needs, but you need to know what the absolutes are.
What are the specifics of this situation that either must happen or cannot happen? Write these down and in a few sentences, explain to yourself why these are indeed absolutes. Then, be willing to honestly explore what life would like like if this did not happen. Be open to the possibility that you are wrong…or…that it can be accomplished a different and better way. Let’s be honest with each other: How often have you felt strongly that something needed to happen a particular way, then discovered that another way was at least as good and maybe even better?
So when it comes to needs, be very careful. I’d bet that at least half the time, what we thought was an absolute need either wasn’t a need or something else turned out to be better.
What do you hope to accomplish? What would be the ideal situation? What would the best outcome look like, not only for you, but for others who are directly and indirectly impacted? Write down the names of specific stakeholder individuals and groups. That list might be very short or very long, but there is value in taking the time to articulate how these negotiations will benefit other stakeholders. Having a clear picture of the goals creates a positive energy and excitement for the often difficult process of negotiation.
Sometimes, this articulation of your goals reveals negative outcomes. Some stakeholders might be impacted in ways that are not positive. You might be tempted to put a positive “spin” on that picture, but I recommend caution in doing that. The people you are negotiating with will detect that spin and call it out. It will put a damper on your progress. Instead, be honest and recognize the problem, but also propose a plan to help those who are negatively impacted.
I’ve addressed the need to articulate your personal values, needs, and goals when preparing to negotiate. When you are negotiating on behalf of an organization you must also consider the values, needs, and goals of that organization. As you do so, assess the compatibility and synergy between your personal and the organizational values, needs, and goals. Do they align? Do they support one another? To the degree that they do, you can be an effective negotiator for that organization. Is there always a perfect fit? Not usually. Some level of disconnect is not uncommon. So you need to assess the level of disparity and determine if you can continue to represent that organization.
In summary, any negotiation work you do, with yourself or with others, will be enhanced by taking the time to articulate your values, needs, and goals. Write them down. Develop clarity. Also, explore your notes with others and be open to new possibilities.
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 by Kevin.Fai. Available at Flickr.com.