For more than one-quarter of a century, Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, worked with the notoriously headstrong Steve Jobs (one of Pixar’s co-founders). Catmull recounts a typical interaction with Jobs: “I would say something to him, and he would immediately shoot it down because he could think faster than I could … I would then wait a week … I’d call him up, and I give my counter argument to what he had said, and he’d immediately shoot it down. So I had to wait another week, and sometimes this went on for months.”
Despite the ubiquity of negotiation in business, negotiations are often rife with difficulty. In my work as an executive coach, I always work to find ways to improve executives' conflict management skills, and once they experience the benefits, they become more eager to develop their negotiation skills too. Because whether you’re negotiating the conditions of a business contract or proposal or negotiating for a raise or promotion, negotiation is part and parcel to your career advancement. Overestimating the importance of negotiation in business is difficult. As Andy Warhol reminds us, “Human beings are born solitary, but everywhere they are in chains - daisy chains - of interactivity. Social actions are alternative forms, often courageous, sometimes ridiculous, always strange. And in a way, every social action is a negotiation, a compromise between 'his,' 'her' or 'their' wish and yours.”
Executive Coaching: The “How To’s” of Negotiating in Business
1. Don’t rely too heavily on facts
When you find yourself in the throes of a negotiation, attempting to change another’s mind, it is often ineffective to leverage cold, hard facts. Sure, facts will assist you in constructing a strong argument as they are difficult to dispute. However, when presenting or being presented with facts, it's important to avoid arguing with them as you’re likely to find yourself in murky waters. If you attempt to argue with only with ironclad facts, you can quickly lose your credibility.
While facts can be valuable, it’s important not to rely too heavily on them. Research has revealed that we tend to undervalue and discredit facts that contradict our beliefs and overvalue facts that confirm them (the phenomenon is referred to as “the confirmation bias”). It's best to appeal to emotions. As John Adams once stated, “Facts are stubborn things.”
2. Avoid power struggles
To ensure that negotiations remain productive, it's best to separate individuals from their positions. In their book, “Getting to Yes,” Roger Fisher and William Ury contend that it's best to attack the problem, not the people. The most successful negotiations are centered not on positions but interests. Only by focusing on your and the other party’s interests can you devise productive and mutually beneficial solutions to the problem at hand. When you attack their positions, your opponents are more likely to become defensive and pay less attention to your arguments and appeals to emotion. The negotiation can quickly morph into a power struggle.
When engaging in negotiations, it can often be useful to present new information as a means of shifting your opponents’ positions. For example, "Last week, during my executive presentation, I argued that it would be more cost effective to expand our sales to Australia before Brazil. Upon review of our most recent market traction report, I now believe it makes sense to prioritize expansion to Brazil." Indeed, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when an individual presents new information that contradicts his/her previous stance, it can trigger a positive, persuasive effect if the individual is deemed trustworthy.
3. Exude respect by perspective taking
Far too often, we embark on negotiations with a fixed and rigid state of mind. We fixate on our own opinions and beliefs and don’t invest enough effort or care into understanding the other party’s position. An article published in Psychological Science by Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University and colleagues found that negotiations are more successful when parties can take their opponents' perspectives.
To step into your opponent's shoes, it is often useful to ask open-ended questions that allow them to open up. For example, “How do feel about Jim’s proposed market expansion strategy?” or “Where do you hope we are as a company in five years?” The use of open-ended questions demonstrates a genuine interest in and respect for your opponent’s stance. Peter Ditto, a psychology professor at the University of California at Irvine, explains, "When people have their self-worth validated in some way, they tend to be more receptive to information that challenges their beliefs."
4. Leverage experimentation and improvisation
In many ways, negotiation is akin to improvisation. You're onstage without a script, needing to respond quickly and effectively to unforeseeable actions and rejoinders. The most successful negotiators can anticipate the unanticipated. When preparing for negotiations, they experiment with different positions and behaviors, trying them on for fit. By opening their mind to a multitude of different possibilities, they become more adept at negotiation "jujitsu" and can determine which tactics are likely to be most effective in advancing arguments. Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, explains, “Negotiation is like jazz. It is an improvisation on a theme. You know where you want to go, but you don’t know how to get there. It’s not linear.”
Poor negotiation can cripple your success as an executive and leader. Fortunately, negotiation tactics and techniques can be learned and honed over time. Some executive coaches are well-equipped to put you on a path to success. An executive coach with leadership experience, like myself, is adept at facilitating a series of leadership training activities centered on how to leverage experimentation and improvisation in planning for negotiations, how to position your argument, how to recognize different bargaining styles, how to make concessions, and how to overcome apparent deadlocks. To learn more about my executive coaching services, or to request my services for yourself or your company’s executive, contact me today. As John F. Kennedy proclaimed in his inaugural address, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner