When winning isn’t the goal

What if you could negotiate on your behalf or on behalf of others without compromising that which you think you deserve and being a decent person?  What if you could separate a problem facing you from the person you think is the problem?  And what if you could invent options that will benefit both you and the person with whom you’re negotiating?

Over these past holidays I read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  This is considered somewhat of a classic, and it is for good reason.  To summarize the content here would be a challenge, and it is a challenge to leave anything out.  Instead, let me focus on one aspect, that of separating the people from the problem, which is essential to coming to agreeable terms without letting a relationship suffer.

To separate the problem and the person, you need to be concerned with three things:  Perception, Emotion, Communication.

When it comes to perception, you should constantly challenge yourself to see things from the other’s point-of-view.  You can’t really read his or her mind so why tell yourself that you know their intentions; in fact, many times you base your ideas about their intentions from your own fears.  If I’m afraid that someone will take advantage of me, I’m much more likely to interpret his actions as being movitvated to do so.  In fact, we sometimes blame the other person that the very problem exists instead of proceeding with the understanding that it is your mutual problem.  One way to combat perception problems is to look for opportunities to act contrary to their perceptions.  If the other person is afraid you are withholding information, then offer to answer any question, to open the books for him or her.

Emotions can also run high and be an enemy when thorny negotiations are in progress.  To prevent emotions from taking over, you need to exercise your best emotional intelligence:  recognize the emotions that are present, theirs and yours, and be prepared to make them explicit by acknowledging them.  If you sense when you are being defensive, you’ll be much less likely to let defensiveness cause you to react instead of to act.  You can also be charitable here.  If the other person does react with some emotion, be willing to let it pass and not hold it against them.  Remember, the goal is a successful negotiation, and some forebearance may be what is needed.

Finally, communication is essential.  You may be tempted to slam shut a notebook and walk out but that will only make you feel good for a short time.  Instead, listen actively and acknowledge what is being said, speak clearly and directly, and speak about yourself (“I”) and not about them (“You”).  If each word you speak contributes to the purpose of the negotiation, you’ll indeed make progress.

The biggest takeway I had from “Getting to Yes” is that we’re to focus on interests and not positions.  If I’m negotiating a price on a house and I say, “I won’t pay a penny more than $200,000”, I may have missed an opportunity for creative thinking that would benefit both of us.

The authors relate an anecdote that occurred in England in 1964 when the Frisbee was just becoming known.  After two Americans had finished a session of throwing the disc, someone asked “Who won?”  Just as the question of winning isn’t appropriate for Frisbee throwing, “Who’s winning?” isn’t the right question for a negotiation.  Winning might best be described as both parties walking away feeling good about the outcome and good about themselves as human beings.


Avoiding grievances

Some suggestions for “How to avoid grievances” by John Wooden

1. Get all the facts. What went wrong — not who is to blame.

2. Stay calm. Find the solution together. Do not permit emotions to take over.

3. Criticize in private.

4. Commend before and perhaps after you criticize. Help save face.

5. Keep your criticism constructive. Criticize to correct, help, improve, prevent — not to punish.

6. Treat all people with dignity and respect.

A crisis of confidence

It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when my colleague and I were troubleshooting a problem with some of his code. He seemed a little down, but In my role as a systems administrator, I was happy to help any way I could. While we were waiting for something to finish running, I was making small talk and asked what he was doing that weekend. He said that he and his wife would be celebrating their anniversary, “but I will probably mess that up too.”

My heart sunk. It was clear that he was in a bad place as far as his confidence for his work was concerned. We’ve probably all had our low moments, and it’s certainly not the place of a co-worker to play amateur psychologist. Still, no one of us can do our best work when our confidence is flagging. We cannot afford to waste anyone, and when someone has let their work affect their self-esteem (or vice-versa), we shouldn’t be reluctant to come along side that person with an encouraging word.

Most people have colleagues to whom they look to for inspiration. This may or may not be someone in a direct managerial line, but, we instinctively know when someone needs a pat on the back or kind word (or a figurative kick in the pants for that matter). I can’t tell you the number of times in my career that I’ve lifted my chin a little higher and quickened my step when someone, a peer or manager, has encouraged me.

Lest you think I’m referring to some artificial or contrived sentiment, let me make it clear: pretty much everyone is hired because of some talent they’ve evidenced. Sometimes, folks just need to be reminded about that talent. Take some time periodically to think about someone who might benefit from an encouraging word.