Negotiation can be pretty rough-and-tumble, as we have been witnessing in Washington the last several weeks, but skillful negotiation isn’t about sending the other side away feeling like a loser. There is no talent to that and little long-term reward. While we’re observing the heated, intransigent interactions in D.C, here are some techniques from The Skilled Negotiator to use when conflict has become too heated:
Ask clarification questions. (The wise negotiator asks more than tells).
Make headway on less contentious issues, returning to others later.
Reposition or frame the problem in positive or mutual-gain terms.
Link something they believe or value to what you also believe or value to reduce the perception of being miles apart or incapable of agreement. Also even a moment of agreement tends to reduce resistance, since people are more inclined to work with someone they consider at least in some ways similar to themselves.
Emphasize what has been accomplished over what has not. There is a tendency when negative emotions become involved or people fear losing “face” to focus on the negative. When a negotiation is framed as having already accomplished a fair or significant amount, the focus shifts to the positive and again reduces resistance.
Encapsulate conflict issues to avoid infection of other issues. Don’t let the mash potatoes infect the string beans. That’s a useful child’s analogy. When issues pile on top of each other, effective negotiation is unlikely.
Avoid focusing on petty issues or ones that are likely to resolve themselves later on. Skillful negotiators are on the look out for topics that will take them away from their goals. They bring the discussion back to topics of relevance to both parties or discuss priorities to avoid frequent diversions.
If style is part of the problem — you’re too much alike or too different in how you talk to people — meet the other person halfway. This is difficult when emotions are involved. But the negotiator that knows his/her negotiation style and also how to adapt to others in not likely to become stuck in conflict.
These are a few tips for avoiding impasse. Even these few can make a significant difference in what’s accomplished in negotiation or even in simple disagreements.