[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
You negotiate every day. If you think you only negotiate when you’re buying a car or creating a deal, you don’t realize you negotiate every time you decide with a friend where to get lunch, with your spouse what movie to see, with your boss if you can work from home another day per week.
Any interaction with some give and take involves negotiation. And if you think of negotiation as each of you trying to beat the other, you’ll miss what a growth experience it can offer.
The book Getting to Yes is the book on negotiation. It was my first business book and the human side it showed to business led me to the great experience of business school and all this emotional intelligence, self-awareness stuff as much as anything else. Most business school students have read it for the past several decades (or at least they were assigned to read it).
Getting to Yes also transformed negotiation for me from a give-and-take zero-sum adversarial practice to a collaborative relationship-building one; needless to say, a great improvement.
I stopped buying the book because I kept giving copies away. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading the book so I recommend it to everyone. As with any activity, your negotiation skills improve with practice, so you need to augment reading with practice, but, as I mentioned, you get to practice every day.
The book presents four high-level strategies. I haven’t disentangled the root model from which the strategies emerge, so I’ll just write their strategies. If you’ve read the book, I expect just reading them will remind you of their meaning and depth. If you haven’t, they probably won’t mean as much, in which case I recommend reading the book.
Getting to Yes strategies
1. Separate the people from the problem.
2. Focus on interests, not positions.
3. Invent options for mutual gain.
4. Insist on using objective criteria.
5. Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)
Wikipedia included the fifth, but I remember the book listing only the first four. As long as they have another, I’ll put another one:
6. Always try to improve your BATNA.
And one more general enough to apply to nearly all skills so you might take it for granted, exactly why to include it:
There, now you have the top strategies for negotiation.
Come to think of it, I’ll add one more model.
Negotiation always has two components: dividing the pie (called distributive), where negotiators’ interests are adversarial, and making the pie bigger (called integrative), where negotiators’ interests align.
I find working on the integrative part fun and constructive. If you only think of the distributive part, like if your model for negotiation is a used-car salesperson, you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships, build businesses, and enjoy life more.
When I use these beliefs and strategies
I use these beliefs and strategies every time I have a give-and-take interaction with someone, which tends to happen several times per day.
I use them almost every time I interact with someone, even not negotiating. I haven’t formally thought about these strategies together for a while, but now looking at them, realizing I tended to practice their opposites, I can’t imagine how difficult working with me would have been.
Sadly, I know people who still practice their opposites. It’s hard to work with them, so I tend to avoid people like that. You probably avoid people like that too. If you don’t want people to avoid you, learn Getting to Yes strategies.
What these beliefs and strategies replace
These beliefs and strategies replace my old used-car salesperson model of negotiating, where I imagined the other person had these strategies
Hide information from the other person.
Get what you can because whatever you don’t get the other person will.
Dominate the other person to get them to agree.
Act nice to get them to trust you so you can get more from them.
Lie if you can get away with it.
Stick to your position. Get them to abandon theirs.
Just looking at those strategies you can see they’ll create an unpleasant and unproductive environment. (Here are two posts that illustrate such an environment: Do you want to win debates or enjoy life? and If you think you’re right and they’re wrong, you’re probably annoying someone, illustrated)
Those strategies still emerge in the distributive part of negotiation, which I believe is inherent, but they aren’t the only part. In longer-term relationships that part becomes easier to handle.
Where they lead
These beliefs and strategies lead to productive, constructive relationships, especially in business but also in personal relationships. They lead you to get to know the person you’re negotiating with, not just to try to beat them. They lead you to look forward to negotiation — a daily activity — as a creative, human experience, not a contest.
So when I want to decide what movie to watch with a friend we don’t end up arguing over which one to watch tonight, but learning what types of movies and actors we like, why, and what types of movies we’ll watch different times, what other types of activities we’d like to do together that we can roll into the agreement, and so on. Instead of just figuring out what movie to watch one night, we build a relationship built on common interests we share and diverging interests from which we learn from one another.
In business it means I look to build things with people, not just compete to win. When I have to compete to win I don’t take it personally, which makes me more calm and capable of solving problems.
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