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May 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm #139788AtticusModerator
This was originally posted, in slightly modified form, in my training journal. Some of what I’m about to say is adapted from a personal finance teaching and discussion group that I facilitate offline (source), along with some additional experiences and explanations from my training and experience as a negotiator and mediator.
Negotiation is undeniably a crucial skill for a Jedi. What follows are some basic rules that must be observed in every effective negotiation. But I do not intend this as a simple checklist; I feel that each of these rules is a natural outgrowth of an essential Jedi value.
Rule 1: Always tell the complete truth. Obviously honesty should be a character trait Jedi strive for in any circumstance, but one with no credibility simply cannot be an effective negotiator. In many cases, failure to disclose a material fact is legally equivalent to an affirmative misrepresentation. Not to mention, a material misrepresentation that induces another to act in detrimental reliance? We lawyers call that fraud.
Rule 2: Listen more than you talk. Also known as the Rule of STFU; again, something we should probably be doing even away from the negotiating table. Above all, you should always be gathering information, which will help you understand more of the other party’s interests and motivations (see Rule 3 below). Additionally, never underestimate the power of an uncomfortable silence; in the States, it’s amazing how often the other party will begin to volunteer information, or even change position or throw in added terms to sweeten the deal, just to fill the sound void. (Note: you will not find this to be true in every culture.)
Rule 3: Look for what’s under the waterline. By this, I mean searching for the other party’s hidden interests and motivations beyond the stated ones that have brought you to the table; like an iceberg, you’re really only seeing the 10-15% that’s on the surface. We have a tendency to view negotiation as a zero-sum game — if I win a concession, you must per se have lost an equivalent something — but in many if not most cases, it’s just not; there are always opportunities to expand the factors under negotiation to turn the negotiating field into a potential win-win situation for both the parties. You just have to search for those hidden interests. I’ve done a number of negotiations where a seemingly inevitable deadlock on some issue was averted by a concession on some unrelated thing, frequently something that neither party had even considered was up for negotiation — and frequently something that I didn’t even know was an issue until I hear an off-hand comment that tips me off to its existence, like a black hole that can only be detected by its gravitational pull on its surroundings.
(On a related note, in some cases you may find that the thing the parties are disputing is not the real issue, merely something they have seized upon to exert leverage over each other. You discover this by the liberal use of Rule 2: listening and really opening yourself to what’s being said and what’s not. I’ve helped to end vicious custody litigation with little more than an apology and a minor adjustment to transportation arrangements.)
Rule 4: Say “That’s not good enough.” Especially effective when followed immediately by Rule 2. Don’t elaborate, don’t illuminate, don’t make suggestions. With this one sentence, you gently let the other party know that their last offer will not be accepted, and wait for them to proffer something better.
Rule 5: Be patient. Negotiations are seldom time-critical; on the rare occasions where they are, the time constraints must be built into the ground rules at the outset of the talks. (It’s a grim scenario where a speedy resolution is vital to your interests and matters not to the other party — it’s the equivalent of a siege, where all the other party need do is wait you out — but handling that is beyond the parameters of this basic post.) The rest of the time, however, haste leads inevitably to the potential for bad decision-making, unnecessary concessions for the sake of making a quick deal.
Rule 6: Maintain your power to walk away. Salespeople, even amateur ones, can tell when you’ve “bought,” when you’re emotionally attached to the purchase. At that point, effective negotiation stops because the salesperson no longer needs to adjust his position to make the sale, right? Therefore, the practice of detachment is especially important here. If the other party is not budging, you must be willing to get up and leave the table without acquiring the whatever-it-is that you came for, and you must allow that spirit to be conveyed in your words and your demeanor. (Are there circumstances under which you might not have that power? Probably; hostage negotiations come to mind, so there are possibly others, but my guess is they’re extremely rare.)
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