Negotiation skills workshops have to be one of the most popular training courses in recent corporate history. Sales professionals sign up with high hopes of gaining the critical edge on the competition, discovering the skills and manoeuvres like going silent, being prepared to walk away, assertiveness and much more.
That kind of training may work in the short term but it almost invariably impairs the chances of longer-term success. Just think about how you feel when you’ve been on the losing side of a deal, when the other person’s got one over on you. They might be revelling in the short-term victory, but you are fuelled by an increased motivation to return the favour. The situation sets up such a high degree of competitiveness that the next time the winner becomes the loser. Ultimately it’s a zero sum game – a lose-lose scenario.
As we all know, a win-win scenario is much more desirable. The trouble is that such scenarios are not easy to broker. One reason for this is that many people operate in the binary world of ‘either/or’. They create answers that are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. So either you’ve won the argument or I have. We can’t both win. Either my point of view is correct or yours is, we can’t both be correct at same time.
Such a binary view of the world is a sign of under-development. You are perfectly capable of appreciating two apparently contradictory positions, if you develop yourself and become more vertically sophisticated. To illustrate this point consider the story from the Indian subcontinent about the blind men and the elephant. Four blind men were examining an elephant and arguing with each other about what they were feeling. Each was certain that their ‘view’ was correct. The person feeling the tusk believed he was examining a pipe; the person feeling the tail rejected this idea saying that what they were examining was a rope, etc. They all argued that their perspective was correct and they could not appreciate any other person’s points of view. Only when a sighted man came along was the full picture revealed.
It’s the same when we’re negotiating. We may only take a partial and incomplete view. If, instead, we are able to appreciate the complete picture and take a more inclusive frame, we may succeed. To achieve this we need to develop the ability to transcend our own point of view and include other perspectives. This requires a degree of sophistication. An ego-centric “I am right, you are wrong” perspective is too immature, too binary to deliver a sustainable outcome. Thus our own rigidity can kill the negotiation.
We need to be wiser than this. A smarter way forward is to change the goal of the negotiation entirely. The goal is not winning the argument to get what we want. The goal is to create a dynamic that delivers a sustainable result. So if we shift the goal of the negotiation from outcome to process, from achieving a result to creating momentum and engagement, then we are more likely to succeed. If there is no engagement and forward momentum then we will either fail or any deal we do manage to force through, in the short term, is likely to unravel.
Creating genuine engagement means we need to start with the other person’s point of view rather than trying to impose our own. We need to make the other person feel heard, understood and “seen”. This can create motivation in them for connecting with us. If we can establish connection and engagement then we can create momentum and movement. That movement shifts the other party away from their rigid position towards the outcome we are looking for. So engagement and momentum are a more sophisticated more nuanced goal that increase the chances of progress now and in the future. If we can help all other parties in the negotiation to move a little then we create the possibility of acknowledging the validity of every perspective and we can integrate all of them in a wiser more inclusive view.
The ability to ‘transcend and include’ multiple perspectives is sign of vertical development. Achieve this and we have started to unlock what I call the fourth dimension of leadership (4D Leadership). The more sophisticated you are, the more able you are to embrace different points of view. This ability to hold and move effortlessly between multiple points of view enables the best negotiators to be super successful.