Archive for the ‘Relationship-building’ Category

Speak, Listen, Question

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I have worked with a number of companies to improve their internal collaboration through relationship-based negotiation. We usually end each session with the staff taking part in some demonstration role plays. These have been eye-opening experiences for everyone.  Naturally, we tend to feel we are communicating just fine–and that if there is a problem it’s the listener’s fault. From observing those role plays, however, it is clear that we may not be doing everything as well or as consistently as imagined, especially in three key areas:

1. Speaking. Some people have truly mastered the friendly phrase, such as “I understand” or “I want a solution you feel comfortable with.” But if, after saying you understand, you ignore the concern the speaker just raised and launch straight into what you want to say—or if you follow your expressed desire for your counterpart’s comfort with a forceful argument for your predetermined solution—he or she quickly detects insincerity.  In fact, the other party may actually become more resistant than if you had left out those nice sentiments altogether. So does that mean you should dispense with all empathetic language? Of course not. It simply means that words need to express meaning, not just make nice sounds.

2. Listening. Would it make sense to negotiate a maze with your eyes closed? Of course not. Yet time and again I observed people trying to negotiate a complex disagreement with their ears closed. One party would state her concern to be X, only to have her respondent assure her about Y.  Why? Because the respondent hadn’t heard her. Convinced going into the negotiation that he knew what her objections would be, he had put his minds entirely into making arguments to deflect those predetermined objections. This is a trap we all can fall into, as we naturally want to use the arguments we have developed or rack our brains to think up new ones while the other party is speaking. But all we accomplish by sticking to a predetermined argument  is  to carry on two separate conversations whose points never intersect–annoying our counterparts who feel we haven’t listened to a word they said.

3. Asking questions. The biggest problem overall is the tendency to launch into a sales pitch rather than inviting the other party into the discussion by asking questions.  If the respondent expressed qualms or disagreement, the first party simply argues more forcefully. It’s an astoundingly widespread approach given that it’s so ineffective. People are rarely talked into things they don’t want. The effective negotiator spends a lot more time asking question than pushing his or her own views. If the other party appears reluctant, follow up their objections by asking what their concerns are. Then you can start working together to reach a solution. You may even be surprised at the answer.

One final tip on questions: it’s also a good skill to invite questions from the other party by not overwhelming them with information at the start. Instead, start with a short statement or question, such as, “Is there any possibility that you could loan us a couple of your staff for this project?” This will grab the listener’s attention, leading him to ask for more information. Once he asks “Why?” he had invited your explanation, not been accosted with it, and it becomes more of a dialogue.

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The Influential Leader

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Most people see negotiation as an isolated pursuit involving buying and selling. In fact, negotiating relationships is an activity we all engage in every day—and is a particularly important skill for leaders. Indeed, I would argue it may be the key skill of a leader.

The job of the leader is to influence others to work together to accomplish an objective. As I have set out in Beyond Dealmaking, the job of the relationship-based negotiator is to resolve differences and find synergies so that all parties can work cooperatively to achieve mutual gain. Not very different, are they? The relationship-oriented negotiator focuses on achieving the best overall outcome, not on winning points, just as the good leader focuses on achieving the most sustainable profits for his or her organization, not short-term gains for a single division or satisfaction for a single customer.

Achieving this level of cohesion throughout the organization is no easy task. The leader must exercise influence in every direction: upward with higher management or the board of directors; laterally with clients or customers, on the one hand, and with colleagues and other division heads on the other; and, of course, downward with staff. To focus on only one of these primary relationships is to put the company at peril. Let’s look at a few examples:

Carly Fiorina was known to be a superb manager of people,  but her neglect of her relationship with HP’s Board of Directors ultimately cost her her job. Toyota showed a surprisingly poor awareness of the importance of customer relations in the recent recall debacle in which apologies came late, explanations even later, and every communication appeared forced and half-hearted. Lehman Brothers went under the first time in 1984 because of implacable hostilities between its traders and investment bankers which ultimately created a dysfunctional internal environment. And we all have stories of leaders who operate on the old command and control system, who sustain their positions only through every higher payoffs.

The answer is that we need to negotiate relationships all the time in every direction. In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a leader whose influencing skills earned him the very highest ranks in both the military and the civilian government, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’… I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only sort of leadership I know or believe in – or will practice.

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Women Thrive in Relationship Negotiation

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The evidence is in! Women get higher value results when they break away from the old view of negotiation as a contest.

Experiments by UC Berkeley Professors Laura Kray and Professors Leigh Thompson and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern that show that women claim equal value from a negotiation as men when they saw it as a learning tool, but less when they were told it was a competition. According to the researchers, a competitive environment triggered fears in women that they would “lose,” turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to the latest issue of the Harvard Negotiation Newsletter, “By looking at negotiation as a learning opportunity rather than as a performance, women can gain the confidence needed to overcome insidious stereotypes.” I would venture a more bold, and practical conclusion: if women approach negotiation as building a relationship to allow the parties to work profitably together rather than as ”winning a deal” they will gain the confidence to overcome both their own negative attitudes toward negotiation and greatly enhance their ability to succeed at it.

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How to Create a Positive Connection

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Some readers of Beyond Dealmaking have said that, although they see the value of building relationships with their business partners, they don’t know how to get started. How do you develop a relationship with someone you may not know well or have only spoken to on the phone? Of course you cannot give complete trust to a stranger, but you can start to build trust by creating a positive connection.

Every relationship, regardless of depth, requires words, attitudes, and behavior that express fellow-feeling. Here is my top-ten list for negotiators:

  • Respect, friendliness, a sense that you like the other person as a human being, not merely as a means, or obstacle, to your end
  • Fairness in distributing and carrying out both responsibilities and benefits
  • Honest, open, and positive communication
  • Care and concern for the other’s well-being, both within and beyond the immediate transaction
  • Empathy and understanding
  • Collaborative efforts toward mutual success
  • Reciprocity, returning favors, responding to trust with trust
  • Open-mindedness, flexibility, and willingness to adapt to different ideas and to changes
  • Appropriate commitment at each stage of the relationship
  • Dependability, maintaining your understandings, and following through with your promises

This may seem to be an overwhelming list, but it’s actually the way we approach normal human relations. Think of even a casual friendship—say with a colleague or neighbor—and you will see that you instinctively follow all of these rules to some extent. You smile and say good morning; you show concern and care when he appears with his arm in a sling; if she offers you a gift of some vegetables from her garden, you share something with her some other time. This is the natural way human beings interact to create smooth and cooperative relationships.

Why then should it be less natural or intelligent to show the same positive manner toward the person on the other side of the negotiation table, whose active collaboration you are pursuing and whose cooperation you will rely on for your own success in carrying out the agreement? Simply stated, it’s not. The grave danger is becoming so focused on the deal that you forget the human being with whom you have to fashion the deal, the person who will say “yes” or “no” to the terms you propose, and the people who will implement any final agreement.

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The Case for Going Beyond Dealmaking

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I am often asked why I differentiate relationship negotiation from dealmaking. After all, isn’t “deal” just another word for “transaction”? The answer is yes, and therein lies the central in traditional deal-based negotiation.

A transaction is a quick, short-lived exchange. It’s about this deal, these terms. Get a signature, and you’re done. Negotiating relationships is a process with no clear beginning or end. Your goal is to build sufficient understanding, comfort and trust between parties that you can work together now and in the future, under conditions that enable both sides to prosper.

There are other critical differences:

  • In a deal, the party you are negotiating with is, to a large extent, your opponent. In a relationship, the other party is your preferred partner.
  • Deals are about getting as much of what you want as you can carry away. Relationships are based on fair division and joint burden-sharing.
  • In a deal, you hold yourself aloof from the other party: hiding information, guarding your responses, pressing your position. In a relationship, you are more relaxed, open, and natural: sharing information and truly seeking to understand and resolve differences.
  • In a deal, you may exaggerate the strength of your position or try to trick the other side into giving in. Successful relationships are based on honesty, reliability, and follow-through.
  • Deals are static, inflexible, with exhaustive contracts intended to guarantee that every term and condition will remain “carved in stone” until the transaction is completed. Relationships are also based on fundamental agreements, but they are more accommodating, less rigidly detailed. Because relationships take place over time, change needs to be anticipated and managed constructively rather than ignored because it falls outside of the scope of the initial agreement. Relationships are dynamic, not carved in stone.

Not all deals require relationships in order to succeed, of course. When you sell your old car through an online ad or bargain over a ceramic pot in a foreign market while on vacation, it truly is a transactional activity. But most negotiations—from mergers and acquisitions, to supplier contracts, to interdepartmental meetings for allocating funding or agreeing on where to hold the company picnic—are for arrangements that will be implemented over time, sometimes years, or that will lead to future arrangements. Even when you are unlikely to meet that individual customer or supplier or even colleague ever again, the relationships you build throughout the negotiation and implementation process will have an impact on your future business by shaping your reputation and the number and type of references you receive.

Building and maintaining relationships involves a lot more work than simple dealmaking, in which you can be detached, no-nonsense, and unaffected by what comes after. But over time, living off single transactions is downright exhausting and offers ever-diminishing returns. In the long run, you will find that the extra work you put into negotiating relationships will more than pay for itself in tangible gains—and will reward you with a happier life.

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