Rule 2: Communication Skills
Rule 2.1: Lines of communication are critical.
Without lines of communication there can be no negotiation. Therefore, this rule is essential. Lines of communication are the life-blood of a negotiation.8 Master Negotiators understand this; novices do not. Novice Negotiators often focus on static elements of the problem, believe that they are "playing a winning hand", and throw down the gauntlet, only to learn later that the dynamic elements of the situation have changed, their leverage has withered, and they have burned their bridges.
Master Negotiators nurture their lines of communication. Where lines are weak, they seek to develop new lines.
To ease the stress of negotiating and improve the chances for a successful result, establish rapport with your opponent, and build on that foundation. This is especially important in cases where the parties will have a long-term relationship after closure.
"What is the secret to creating and sustaining trust in negotiation? A simple but sturdy norm in human behavior: the norm of reciprocity". 9
"Boiled down to its essence, the norm of reciprocity in negotiation amounts to a simple, three-step code of conduct. First, you should always be trustworthy and reliable yourself. ... Second, you should be fair to those who are fair to you. ... Third, you should let others know about it when you think they have treated you unfairly. Unfair treatment, left unnoticed or unrequited, breeds exploitation - followed by resentment and the ultimate collapse of the relationship." 10
"Generosity begets generosity. Fairness begets fairness. Unfairness ought to beget a firm response. That's the norm of reciprocity in relationships. ... Always take turns. After you make a move, wait until the other party reciprocates before you move again." 11
"Another time-tested way to encourage the delicate process of establishing trust in working relationships is to give the other side something as a symbol of good faith. ... Behavioral economists have argued that gifts - especially gifts between unrelated strangers - often serve as signals regarding intentions to invest in a future relationship."12
If you find it hard to establish rapport with the unreasonable, rude SOB on the other end of the phone, don't give up. There are a couple of things you can do. First, consider an "end run". For example, if you are an attorney, and your opponent is an attorney, and you find it impossible to communicate with him or her, consider having your client communicate with his client. Second, consider employing a mediator. Third, consider engaging another lawyer who you know has good rapport with your opponent.
"... the best time for handling people problems is before they become people problems. This means building a personal and organizational relationship with the other side that can cushion the people on each side against the knocks of negotiation."13
Fisher and Ury tell us that "people problems" fall into three categories: perception, emotion, and communication. 14
"Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem." 15
They counsel us to "put yourself in their shoes". 16
"The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess. ... To accomplish this task you should be prepared to withhold judgment for a while as you 'try on' their views."17
Seek your opponent's advice concerning how to resolve the issue. You probably will not like what you hear, but he or she will feel better about you because you inquired.
"Apart from the substantive merits, the feeling of participation in the process is perhaps the single most important factor in determining whether a negotiator accepts a proposal. In a sense, the process is the product." 18
This rule suggests that intimidation tactics are ineffective, which, of course, is not true. Master Negotiators understand, however, that persuasion is usually superior to intimidation as a negotiation tactic. If intimidation "works", it only works when the negotiating playing field is skewed for some reason, where one party has so much greater leverage than the other, that the interaction can scarcely be called a "negotiation". And, as every parent who has raised a child to adolescence knows, intimidation almost always results in passive aggressive behavior and resentment.
Rule 2.2: Be cooperative, but don't let your guard down.
Statistics show that cooperative negotiators are more effective than competitive negotiators. 19
"To negotiate well, you do not need to be tricky. But it helps to be alert and prudent. The best negotiators play it straight, ask a lot of questions, listen carefully, and concentrate on what they and the other party are trying to accomplish at the bargaining table."20
The Master Negotiator studies the terrain before settling into a negotiation. He understands that some negotiators are cooperative and some are competitive. Being too cooperative with a highly competitive negotiator is a good way to get plucked.
"... pursuing a soft and friendly form of positional bargaining makes you vulnerable to someone who plays a hard game of positional bargaining. In positional bargaining, a hard game dominates a soft one."21
Rule 2.3: Listen.
"It is hard to overstate the importance of listening skills in bargaining. ... the best negotiators ... ask questions, test for understanding, summarize discussions, and listen, listen, listen. ... You often get more by finding out what the other person wants than you do by clever arguments supporting what you need."22
"Perhaps the best strategy to adopt while the other side lets off steam is to listen quietly without responding to their attacks, and occasionally to ask the speaker to continue until he has spoken his last word. In this way, you offer little support to the inflammatory substance, give the speaker every encouragement to speak himself out, and leave little or no residue to fester." 23
"Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said. ... It has been said that the cheapest concession you can make to the other side is to let them know that they have been heard. ... Standard techniques of good listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. ... Unless you acknowledge what they are saying and demonstrate that you understand them, they may believe you have not heard them." 24
Rule 2.4: Pare down large groups.
Every negotiator confronts situations where each side is a committee, rather than an individual. This usually means negotiations within negotiations, as the members of each committee or group have to negotiate an intra-consensus before responding to the other side. If every member of every group has to put in his two cents before you can respond to a proposal, the process is slow and tedious. This problem can often be remedied if each group will appoint a representative.
"No matter how many people are involved in a negotiation, important decisions are typically made when no more than two people are in the room."25
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