Negotiation is a skill that comes more easily to some than others. However, when the negotiation is occurring in the context of a powerful emotional event such as marital separation, job or financial loss or litigation, even the most skilled negotiators can become ineffective advocates.
Each person in a negotiation brings his or her own strengths and challenges to the process. Sometimes the person who appears, on the surface, to be the most powerful negotiator is out-negotiated by the apparently “weaker” person.
Issues of power in negotiation are complex. Having resources, such as being articulate, sophisticated, organized, experience in negotiating, and good legal advice is one thing. But just as important is how well you use your resources.
If the more “powerful” negotiator is feeling guilty, or is a “hot-head”, he or she will not negotiate as effectively as a person who is emotionally level. A person who is able to clearly recognize what he or she wants and needs will do better in negotiation than a person who doesn’t know what he or she wants.
Certain personality characteristics can create serious imbalances in negotiating power. A person willing to manipulate with violence or threats of suicide, for example, or a dishonest person, can have far more power in a negotiation than a reasonable, experienced negotiator.
Patterns of communication can also reduce the negotiating power of an otherwise resourceful person. As the well-known author John Gray (Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus) points out, men and women communicate in very different ways. These differences can interfere with a person’s ability to use his or her resources in negotiation.
One of a mediator’s most important jobs is to find ways to minimize the imbalances that can result from such differences. Various techniques and processes can be used by the mediator to help the parties feel that they are negotiating on a level playing field.
And certain basic negotiating rules can go a long way towards ensuring a fair and balanced negotiation process. They include:
- Separate the person from the problem. Do not blame the other party to the negotiation as this will put them on the defensive and make it harder for you to get what you want.
- Be easy on the person and hard on the issues. Always treat the other person with respect and courtesy, as if you were negotiating in a professional manner with a stranger. Avoid generalizations and accusations.
- Try to understand the other person’s real needs and fears. Focus on proposing options that you think will address that peron’s needs, while also meeting your own.
- Do not make threats or ultimatums. You gain nothing by negotiating in this manner, except bad faith, a more determined opponent and possibly an end of negotiations.
- Respond meaningfully to proposals made by the other person. If the offer on the table is not acceptable to you, explain why it does not meet your needs. This will help the other person understand what you need and will help you reach an agreement that meets both sides’ needs.
- If you reject an offer made to you, always make a counter-offer. Always explain what thinking lies behind your proposal, how it meets your needs and how you think it might meet the other person’s needs.
If both parties negotiate in this manner, many of the imbalances in power between them can be minimized and the likelihood of reaching a fair and mutually acceptable agreement are much greater.