When things go wrong in a negotiation often there is a quick escalation, conflict increases and the two stinky twins of BO (blaming others) and BS (blaming self) become pronounced. What is the result? Escalation, litigation and entrenchment. I want to suggest three ideas for a better way.
Think of this as a test of your patience, perspective and power. If you lose your cool you lose. No matter what, before entering into the negotiation work as a team or if you are by yourself, counsel yourself with positive reinforcement that no matter what happens you will not let anger enter into the picture. Keep in mind the other side may want to provoke you. If they do you lose. Be focused. Don’t be intimidated by insults, anger, outbursts and personal attacks. I have received all of these. When you are talking about someone’s personal situation or their money the intensity can be even greater. When I was young the attack was often on my inexperience. Stay focused. Go with the flow. Don’t be intimidated. No matter what happens do not lose your cool.
So what can you do? Suggesting a break may be an option. Once when one member of the other side stood up, used foul language and tried to intimidate me. I felt I was being physically threatened. A co-worker of the other party suggested they take a break. That worked. The intimidator came back after a break and apologized. I accepted his apology and we moved on. If you are negotiating as part of a team be there to help one another as that co-worker did. He saved the day for his team in that instance.
When someone cuts you off let them finish the interruption and then when they are finished ask if you can finish your thought. Ask politely and professionally. Demonstrate that you can stay cool and above the line even the other party cannot.
When attacked personally bring the discussion back to focus on the issue. Say something like, “Can we stay focused on the issue?” Say it in a professional calm manner not a sarcastic or negative way.
Reframe. Take a negative remark and restate it in a neutral or positive light. For example when confronted with “You don’t know what you are talking about and what you are suggesting is not at all realistic.” You may respond with something like “Tell me more. Why do you think you have a better approach given the facts in this instance? What do you think I am missing from your perspective?” or “I believe that what I am suggesting is realistic given the facts as I understand them. Help me understand your perspective.”
Most business valuation disputes focus on the end dollar amount. You should look for shared interests related to the issue and for relationship building. What are the common areas of interest related to the valuation? Focus on how much you agree upon instead of where you disagree. Approach the issue as a collaboration to see how you looked at the situation and how the other side looked at the situation. Be open minded and ask open ended questions. What do you have in common personally? Can that be brought into the conversation to help reduce tension? If you both have a lake place for example consider something like, “Wouldn’t you too like to be up at the lake at your cabin right now? I know I would. What can we do to get us there?” That may help alleviate the tension. It is so important that from the beginning you try and build the relationship.
You may find ways to add value to the situation. Consider timing of alternatives, quality of the work product, an apology to lower the tension and possibly resolve the issue, recognizing the other party for their contribution and providing praise for their work and/or competence.
In this case I am asking you to consider not timing of alternatives, but timing relative to the negotiation and implementation after the negotiation. No matter how much time is set aside for a negotiation generally speaking with about 15% of the duration set aside for the negotiation remaining the parties become very serious. They realize if they don’t reach an agreement soon they may be back to their BATNA.
Set up a time frame for a series of meetings with a clear agenda. By meeting multiple times with a focus on a pre-arranged agenda and a time frame for discussion, time may allow for various issues to be discussed by key players.
For example on a very complex case with 12 issues, the parties agreed that if they could address 8 of the smaller issues first within two days, they would be willing to discuss the four remaining complex issues over the next two days. Others may prefer just the opposite priority in a similar circumstance by taking on the hardest issues first. It is up to the parties to determine what might work for them.
If this situation was spread out over several weeks, the important element is that they continue to meet regularly. That in and of itself may demonstrate a desire to work more collaboratively.
Sometimes one person can poison the negotiation. If that person leaves the negotiation that can open up an opportunity. Cease the moment. Take advantage of the situation, by being proactive and reaching out to the other side. A lot can be accomplished in a short time frame with a negative participant out of the process.
As a mediator and negotiator I focus on developing a relationship, listening and asking open ended questions as part of the process. I encourage you to do the same. No matter what stay cool. Be creative and think outside the box and if that is not your strength bring on others onto your team that can help you in this area. Finally consider timing looking at this from several angles as presented above. For more on this topic you might enjoy this article with multiple links from the Harvard Program on Negotiation.
Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court is an international speaker that helps organizations resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Mike may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (651) 633-5311.