Last Fall’s set-to over continuing to fund the operations of the US Federal government and authorize an increase in the debt ceiling of the United States is an object lesson in how not to negotiate. Here are some rules to follow to make sure a negotiation process fails to work:
– Don’t ask yourself that critical question teenagers often pose to their parents, “And your point is. . .?”
Unless you have a clear understanding of why you’re entering into the process of bargaining with other parties, you have no way to measure whether you’re heading in the right direction. A parallel question to ask is what you think motivates your negotiation partner to negotiate with you. It is only worth negotiating if each party believes the other negotiators can add value and are thus worth the negotiation effort.
– Don’t worry about who’s on the each side – and whether they are empowered to make decisions and fulfill commitments.
In the Federal government crisis, people involved with the situation – and outside commentators – urged folks to negotiate without paying serious attention to the choice of negotiation partners. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives – the top Republican in Congress – was not a credible negotiation partner for President Obama because Mr. Boehner could not credibly claim the capacity to ‘deliver’ the votes of the Tea Party members of the House. One of the questions it raises is, when there is a disagreement within your team, how can you negotiate with outsiders. This happens all the time in business and family negotiations; it is not a problem reserved for political leaders.
– Ignore the interests of stakeholders.
While the folks who elected the ‘insurgents’ were given serious consideration by their representatives, elected public officials must pay attention to the interests of many other groups: folks in their districts who didn’t vote for them, members of their political party, and people who experience a direct impact from the approach taken (unpaid Federal employees, purchasers of uninspected food, people who are dependent on relevant programs, and the international investment community). In business it means that negotiators have to pay attention to their bosses – and also other constituents like shareholders, customers, suppliers, and their fellow employees.
– Forget about the long term.
Even if you don’t think you’ll ever see your negotiation partner again, how you behave becomes a part of your reputation, an indicator of whether you put the subject matter of negotiations in a long-term context. In both the public sector and the private sector, fast answers can lead to long consequences that have impacts well beyond the immediate issue at hand.
– When you keep ‘losing’ on a given issue, dig in and keep it your focus Folks don’t take obsessive people seriously.
As Kenny Rogers sings in his iconic song, The Gambler, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” Unless you pay serious attention to the realities, drawing a line in the sand no matter what the consequences can increase the likelihood you will lose face. Good negotiators pay close attention to their Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) so they can focus their attention on what works – and what works better.
– Show disrespect to other parties.
Talented negotiators understand that if you don’t respect other parties who have ‘skin in the game’, they’re not likely to treat their negotiation partners’ suggestions with respect. People tend not to choose to negotiate with people who treat them as enemies. Negotiation is not a competitive sport. It is a process that is aimed at yielding an agreement each party will willingly fulfill. A negotiation’s ‘losing party’ is likely to look for ways to fail to keep his/her side of the bargain. As a consequence, there is no agreement and the negotiation has failed.
– Steven P. Cohen, author of The Practical Negotiator, is a former Washington lobbyist.
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