Mastery is to Learn to be More Flexible
There are people and organizations you can’t really afford not to negotiate with. If your boss disagrees with you about an important issue, it’s a good idea to try to negotiate through to a solution that makes both of you happy instead of playing a high-stakes game.
Competing with your boss has only two likely outcomes: you score a victory that leaves your boss angry and looking for payback opportunities, or you lose and feel defeated and unappreciated and start polishing your résumé. Actually, you better work on your résumé either way, because bosses generally don’t like to be treated to competitive negotiating tactics.
When we have important ongoing relationships with people, it’s generally appropriate not to play a competitive game and instead play an alternative game: a collaborative, compromising, or even avoiding or accommodating negotiating game. We’ll say something about collaborating here and more about the other strategies in Chapter Two.
Collaboration is the opposite of competition in most ways: you share information instead of concealing it, you focus on the other side’s concerns over your own, and you sit side by side instead of negotiating at arm’s length. Collaboration requires rich, ongoing communication, and it relies on joint problem solving. Good collaborators sound very different from good competitors. They talk more, they listen more, they ask a lot more questions, and they
make a lot fewer declarations. They also are more forgiving about waffling and take-backs, since they want to get at the real underlying issues and understand that these may not be apparent to the other side at first.
The negotiating game is very different when the goal is to make sure both sides win. It’s not like the games we watch on TV or most of the games we played as children. In this book, we’ll be sharing a lot of ideas and techniques for win-win negotiating, because it is the lifeblood of business success in most organizations.
Anyone you work with is a candidate for win-win negotiating, including coworkers, team members, employees, bosses, suppliers, customers, regulators, and boards of directors.
When we write a book, we at first compete with the publisher as we bargain to sign a favorable contract with a publishing house that we think will handle the book competently and sell it well. For these competitive negotiations, we usually use a literary agent and keep the communications tightly controlled. We want the publishers to worry that they may lose us to one of their competitors.
We want them to offer us as big an advance and as favorable a royalty rate as we can wring out of them—well, almost; we always try to leave something on the table so that they find the deal livable in the future too.
But you can’t develop and market a new product by continuing to compete with the parties you just signed the contract with. It takes collaboration to write and produce a book that sells well. So as soon
as the contract is signed, we put it in the back of a file cabinet and generally forget all about it. We thank the agent who helped us and send him packing. And we begin to communicate openly and honestly with the editors involved in the project. Our behavior changes because now we need to do team building and stop competing
against the publisher. We have to reach out and learn to work together, sharing concerns, ideas, suggestions, and needs in order to create a good new product together. Like most other projects in the world of business, writing a book requires a win-win, not just a win. If anybody loses, the project will fail.
The master negotiator moves from the competitive to the collaborative negotiation with ease. He or she must also know how to compromise, avoid, or accommodate with grace as the situation demands. Flexibility is the greatest asset of the master negotiator. All other skills are secondary, although they are nevertheless important in their own right. So before we get into any more of the particulars of negotiating tactics and skills, we want to work with you on your flexibility as a negotiator.
What style or approach do you tend to use instinctively? We all have a tendency toward one style or another, and understanding this built-in bias is the first step toward true mastery. Just as the samurai of old trained by practicing swordplay with either hand, the master negotiator today needs to be equally facile in every style and type of negotiation.
But are you left-handed or right-handed by nature? Or, to put it into the context of negotiating, which are your naturally stronger and weaker negotiating styles? As you read this book and learn about the details of each style, ask yourself which one or ones you tend to be most comfortable with. Here are two fundamental questions to help you make this determination:
• Do you tend to avoid conflict (a flight response) or wade right in and enjoy dealing with it (a fight or engagement
response)? People who don’t mind engagement in conflict-oriented situations tend to be naturally drawn to competing or collaborating. Others favor avoiding or, if pressed, find it easiest to compromise because this style is ritualized and simpler than competing or collaborating.
• Do you tend to feel competitive and want to win, or do you focus more on the other party and how to help them? People who respond competitively tend to be most comfortable with the competing style, and secondarily with compromising. Others find it hard to compete because they are naturally more collaborative in
nature and may simply accommodate when pressed.
There are entire assessment instruments to determine your negotiating style (such as Assessing Behavior in Conflict, which one of us, Alex, designed, and many others as well). But you probably will get a clear sense of your own habits and patterns as you read about each style. Whatever your natural tendencies, remember that one of your goals on the road to greater negotiating mastery is to learn to be more flexible, and willing to switch out of your own comfort zone if necessary. Master negotiators are prepared to play and win any game, not just the ones that occur on their home turf