Monday, April 20, 2015

Starting with Yes

Roger Fisher and William Ury’s book, Getting to Yes is generally considered one of the most important books on negotiation.

In a successful negotiation there are no winners and losers. Both parties to the negotiation should walk away feeling that they have won.

If one party feels that he has given in, or made too many concessions, he will feel that he has lost, and that the negotiation has become an exploitation.

How can both people win at negotiation?

Imagine that negotiation is a business transaction. You sell a product for a price. The buyer feels that he has won because he has acquired the product at a fair price and you feel that you have won because you have unloaded the product for a fair price.

Some thinkers believe that negotiation is a creative process. It is not. Consider negotiation a business transaction in which both parties feel satisfied with the result, where neither feels that he has been exploited or abused and neither will feel that he has stolen something.

Of course, it’s not just about feeling. A negotiation will feel fair because the marketplace deem it so.

Lately, negotiation has been much in the news. An administration that exchanged five Taliban commanders for an American deserter was not negotiating. It was being had. Intentionally or unintentionally, we do not know which.

Now, the administration is so desperate to make a deal with Iran that it will make concession after concessions. It is not negotiating. It is surrendering.

If you go back in time, you will recall an administration that did not know how to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq and that thus abandoned that nation. Michael Gordon of the New York Times and Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker agreed on the point; they are hardly neocons.

You will also recall an administration that did not know how to help an ally, the prime minister of Iraq negotiate the conflicting interests of different ethnic groups in his nation.

If your negotiation aims at getting to Yes, you should begin with Yes.

Finding common ground, agreeing on minor matters creates a conversational atmosphere in which it is easier to get to Yes on more important matters. It’s what happens when two strangers meet in a bar and begin by talking about the weather or about any topic that involves objective fact.

Yesterday, consultant Tony Schwartz wrote in a column that we should begin negotiations and meetings and even colloquies with Yes. He also suggested that you should avoid No.

He might have mentioned this well-known fact: when you have offered a business deal to someone in Japan, he will, if he does not want to make the deal, not say No. He will say that he wants to think it over. Saying No would insult you and foreclose the chance for other deals.

Schwartz suggests that when someone presents a new idea or offers you a deal or tells you something about himself you should begin by nodding assent. You should begin with Yes.

Your Yes, he says, means that you are listening to what the other person is saying, see something of value in his statement and accept him as a negotiating partner.

A negotiation cannot take place when one person assumes that he has a monopoly on the truth. It cannot take place when one person rejects what the other is offering or when he is willing to pay any price to have it.

The same principle applies to everyday conversation. It even applies to the kinds of conversations that might take place between therapists and their patients.

Therapists do better to nod in agreement than to shake their heads in opposition. A session should be conducted like a negotiation; it should not be a dramatic conflict.

But, there is more to assent than nodding your head. Like a good negotiator, a therapist should rephrase his interlocutor’s position, to show that he has not merely listened, but has understood.

This implies that expressions of empathy do not advance any negotiation.

Moreover, a therapist who responds to whatever he hears with a rote question: How did you feel? or: How does that make you feel? could have asked the same question to anyone at any time or place. Ultimately, it means that the therapist has not been paying attention.

Nothing about the question affirms what his patient has said. 

If a therapist wants to affirm his patient as a negotiating partner he must be able, at the least, to ask questions that show an attention to fact and detail.

He should show that he is interested in what he is hearing but also that he wants to hear more.

I would suggest that a good negotiator deals with facts, not feelings, with the state of the market, not with wishes and fantasies.

It is not enough to say that you are listening. It is not enough to nod in assent. It is not enough to say that you feel for the other person. If you are engaging in a conversation that is a negotiation, you should show that you see something of value in what you are hearing.

Remember, each person should walk away from a negotiation thinking that he has gained something of value. If your partner has repudiated your position, has dismissed it out of hand, that outcome will become nearly impossible.

Schwartz rejects beginning with No:

The problem with “no” as a starting place is that it polarizes, prompts defensiveness and shuts down innovation, collaboration and connection.

And also:

When a leader starts with “no,” he shuts down others. At an emotional level, the word “no” translates as “I don’t value what you’re saying,” and “I don’t trust you.” Fear, anger or resignation set in, all of which kill creativity, increase distrust and discourage engagement.

If you reject an idea out of hand, you are also rejecting the person who proposed it. If that person works for you and if you expect him to implement a policy that you created while rejecting his input, you will quickly discover the downside of No.

As for Yes, Schwartz concludes:

Starting with yes signals interest and respect. Ever since our company offsite meeting, I’ve made it a regular practice in meetings to seek opportunities to say yes. I don’t always agree with everything I’m hearing, but I can almost always embrace some aspect of an idea being presented and build on that.

The unmistakable and welcome consequence is that it feels as if we’re all in it together. The intelligence of the group invariably exceeds the sum of its parts.


Ares Olympus said...

This seems a muddled topic. Saying yes when you want to say no means you're making feelings more important than facts.

And its the same muddling that causes trouble for women as they try to turn down unwanted advances, while still liking the attention. You've giving mixed messages, and opens the possibility of taking advantage of someone, if the negotiation rules require they give you what you want first, while you know you're going to say no in the end.

So "starting with yes" is a strategy of exploiting people as well as cooperating with them.

David Foster said...

One thing to keep in mind: the interests of the individuals doing the negotiation are not necessarily the interests of the organization he represents. A sales rep compensated on revenue only is likely to offer discounts which make the transaction unprofitable, if he is given that authority. A business development group may well continue pushing for a deal which is probably undesirable for his company, out of resume-building self-interest and simply getting caught up in the excitement of the deal (I call this "the corporate mating instinct".)