Can we negotiate in a way to help make us more comfortable having difficult conversations with others as well as with ourselves?
Expert negotiator Kwame Christian suggests embracing what he calls “compassionate curiosity.” We explain next what this means.
What’s critical to negotiation success?
In an interview with the Conversation Factory, Kwame said confidence during negotiations is one of the most fundamental points that many people miss about negotiating.
“They see it as a series of tips, tricks, and tactics, but it’s really about a way of thinking. Before you start any negotiation with another person, you have one with yourself. You convince yourself that you deserve more than you are currently getting, you resolve to speak up,” Kwame said.
That’s important because he said there’s another part of ourselves that tells us exactly the opposite – we don’t deserve what we want or we shouldn’t bother asking, or that we’ll never get it, no matter how hard we negotiate.
“These parts need to have a conversation and negotiate an approach that feels right to ourselves.”
Force and coercion are not effective long-term negotiation or conversation strategies with another person…and they don’t work very well when we apply them to ourselves, either, according to Kwame.
He suggests applying a 3-step process to be compassionately curious with difficult conversations – a way through challenging disagreements with others or ourselves.
- Acknowledge emotions
- Get curious with compassion
- Joint problem solving
Kwame talks about how it’s hard to force yourself to not worry and what to do instead: It’s better to admit that we DO feel worried and seek to understand why. Like in any negotiation, get curious about what data there is on the other side of the table and then start problem-solving.
“How likely are those scenarios? What can we do about each? It’s much easier to negotiate a time-boxed worrying session with yourself than it is to push it off,” Kwame believed.
This is not to say that negotiations involve skills like storytelling, humor, language, and active listening, but we first need to get over the emotional barrier with others as with ourselves.
Negotiations at any employment level
While until a few years ago the prevailing view of ‘decision-making’ was hierarchical, today decision-making at all levels has become prevalent.
Today, it has become increasingly necessary to have good decision-making skills at all levels, given that the world is now flatter and more global.
Negotiating is one of the must-have skills today to aid good decision-making. It is about coming to a win-win solution where no one goes out winning or losing.
Martial art techniques
Negotiations rely on techniques like discovery and fluidity. Discovery involves learning the other party’s true desires and fluidity involves taking whatever form is needed to find a way through.
These same qualities equate to essential tactics used in the martial arts where the fighters engage in a dynamic process of discovering their opponent’s skills and motivations and then look for an opening in their opponent’s defenses.
By patiently waiting for and recognizing the opening, the confrontation eventually yields results. In negotiations, openings are opportunities or conceptual gaps that can be tested as a place to match one’s needs and desires with that of the opposing side.
Apply these techniques from the martial arts to master the art of negotiation:
Enter prepared to learn. Open your mind and your heart so that you can see matters from the other party’s perspective.
Get in the zone
Be in the moment where you notice everything and miss nothing. Approach a negotiation relaxed, empty and quiet. Put aside any anger, tension, or aggression that you feel will block your ability to sense your counterparty. Listen with complete openness until the opportunity to present your product, service or position arises. Don’t rush or jump the gun. Be patient.
Pay close attention
When paying attention, you become able to sense the other party’s motivation and as a result, their next move.
Find wiggle room
There’s always something you can shift, even slightly, toward a better position. Ask yourself where you can wiggle. What new variables can you introduce? Try to create space by creating possibilities that go more deeply into the counterparty’s interests and positions.
Other powerful negotiation tactics
COVID-19 has changed the way we should negotiate.
First, the world of buyer-supplier relationships that emerged looks very different from the stability, growth, and predictability that prevailed pre-pandemic.
Also, up to 25% of negotiations will remain virtual even as the world opens up while only 10–15% of negotiations were remote or virtual before the pandemic.
Every industry today is starting from a new position after living through a year of lean demand while many have to reconvince customers that there was and will always be a place for physical contact, in retail, food, and other sectors that digitization hit and hit fast.
Pricing has also gone through a transformation as supply chain conditions shifted rapidly, as did consumer tastes and preferences.
Thus, it will be more important than ever for negotiators to prioritize and conduct more scenario analysis to identify which terms to focus on.
Critically, today’s negotiators also need to use online tools effectively to take advantage of this moment. This could include shorter, but more frequent meetings, as travel times are not as much needed today with increased use of remove video conference calls. And multiple stakeholders can be invited to the same meeting for better negotiating results.
And now with video calls, you can have documented proof of what was said or agreed upon and this can help you find ways to conclude deals more successfully.