Four Communication Tips from Negotiations Experts

I subscribe to Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation blog. And if negotiating is part of your life, you should too. I would suggest that negotiating is part of all our lives.  We all find ourselves negotiating at times; if not in our professional lives, in our personal lives.

Interest Based Negotiations

Recently, this blog offered 4 good communication tips in an article entitled For Better Communication, Try Appreciation. The tips were taken from the best-selling book on negotiations, Getting to Yes. This book was a breakthrough in negotiations. This was because the authors described a shift in focus. Generally, negotiations focused on positions. Negotiators attempted to win the negotiation by getting an agreement as close to their optimal position as possible.

Getting to Yes encouraged negotiators to look beyond positions to the interests behind them. This approach enabled negotiators to expand negotiations and find more ways to come to an agreement. In addition, the authors encouraged their readers to look at the interests of the other party. This enabled a change in goals. The objective was no longer just “win.” The goal was now to find a solution where both parties win (“win-win”).

Looking to others’ interests and seeking a “win-win” solution reduces the adversarial nature of negotiations. Instead of engaging in a war of words, negotiators can appreciate the other party and their interests. They can seek a solution that would set the stage for positive negotiations in the future.

Four Communication Tips

The article drew four communication tips from the book that will help negotiators appreciate those with whom they negotiate.

  • Treat the problem, not the people. When faced with a problem, many people start out by finding the person responsible. That person becomes the target. Yet, targeting the person does not necessarily fix the problem. Therefore, we should focus on the problem. Such a focus allows us to be more open and understanding. Instead of targeting the other person, we can enlist their assistance in correcting the problem. They may actually have insight that we do not have. In dealing with problems, I often told my team members, “I want to fix problems, not blame.”  That set the proper focus.
  • Learn to manage emotions. Emotions are part of the negotiating process. We will certainly feel something when the other party disagrees with us, particularly on important points. But, we must remember that “No” is part of negotiations. We should also remember that “No” is often a step in the direction of a “Yes.” If we follow the previous tip (treat the problem, not the people) we are better able to keep our emotions in check. When the other party is becoming angry, try using empathic statements to understand them and reduce their anger. Empathic statements are comments that paraphrase the emotional response back to the other party. It demonstrates a level of understanding and shows we are not just an adversary.
  • Try a positive spin. Too often negotiations devolve into a series of negative arguments. Avoid falling into this cycle. Instead, stay positive. Speak for yourself and your interests. Do not focus on what you think are the negative aspects of the other person and their interests. I recall from a course I took with the Program on Negotiation, Dr. William Ury saying, “Don’t ‘should’ on the other party.” Telling the other party what they should and should not do, leads to the negative. Focusing on “win-win” helps us stay positive.
  • Escape the cycle of action and reaction. We should enter any negotiation with a plan. While we know our plan will change throughout the negotiation, we should keep an eye on the big picture. The big picture is our interests. This will help us not to get overly focused on the immediate situation.  Therefore, we will avoid simply reacting to the other party. Throughout the negotiation, we must listen to understand the other party and their interests. Too often, we simply listen to respond. Such an approach will lead us into the unproductive cycle of action and reaction.

Intelligent Negotiations

Try these communication tips the next time you find yourself negotiating or working through a problem with others. We would say this is the intelligent way to negotiate. And this is why I have integrated the interest-based approach into Intelligent Communication training. So, you can be a better negotiator by becoming a better communicator. We would love to help.

Be swift to hear and slow to speak,

rjm

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