The Power of “Why” in Negotiations

Why, A great question for negotiatingOften when we think of negotiating we think that only one party can win.  Over this summer we saw the US Federal Government negotiate the Debt Ceiling in a manner that was very much a winner-take-all type of negotiation.   The Republicans wanted no new taxes and the Democrats want to add some taxes.  It becomes nearly impossible to negotiate with such polar opposite positions. A similar type of negotiation is when parties are negotiating for their piece of a fixed pie. The various parties usually are gaming to have the biggest piece of the pie or in some cases the whole pie.  Both types of negotiations can become very combative – again look at the Debt Ceiling Negotiations as an example.

I’m going to share with you a different type of negotiation in which both parties can get bigger pieces of the pie than they even thought available.  It’s called collaborative negotiating.  In collaborative negotiation the interests of each party becomes much more important than the actual position of each party.  This allows one or both parties to consider solutions that allow each person to meet their interests yet it may not be in the form of their original position.

Here’s an example of interest-based or collaborative negotiating.

Parent:  Be home by midnight.

Daughter:  Sue’s party won’t be over until 1 at the earliest.  How about 1:30?

Parent:  I have to work tomorrow morning and can’t stay up that late to make sure you get home safely.

Daughter:  Can I sleep over at Sue’s house instead? That way you’re not worrying about me driving home and I get to stay until the end of the party.

Parent:  Sure, if it’s okay with Sue’s parents.

Those of you who remember being 17 or have teenagers are probably laughing at how calm and sane I made this example conversation seem.  In real-life, this could be a very emotional exchange with a door slamming or a few tears or the silent treatment.  But notice, when including the reasons for each party’s position (midnight vs. 1:30) a solution that wasn’t in the original mix becomes the solution that works (sleeping over).  The same can be said for any negotiation even when only one of the parties involved takes the initiative to learn why the stated position is desired.  Let’s try a salary negotiation as an example.

Employee:  I’d like to talk to about my salary.  Based on the current market and the increased responsibility I’ve taken this past year, I believe I should earn an additional $6,000 per year.

Manager:  I agree you have taken on more responsibility but a raise is not possible.

Employee: Why is it not possible?

Manager:  One reason is that we only give raises during the review process and that won’t be for another 6 months.

Employee:  Are there any other reasons?

Manager: The job title you have is capped at $2,000 more than you make.

Employee:  Do you agree that I am doing work at a higher level than my title and salary?

Manager:  Yes, you have taken on more responsibility than you co-workers.

Employee:  Would a senior title and the larger salary be possible now?

Manager:  A promotion can occur outside of the review process and you have stepped up.  Let me look into this more and see what is possible.

Again, this conversation may seem overly calm and sane to you but negotiations can and do happen all the time in such a manner.  Inside you may be a nervous wreck about hearing NO but if you focus on the reasons of your manager’s opposition than you most likely will become calmer and start brainstorming on potential solutions.  Whether or not your manager engages in the brainstorming is not important.  The fact that you took the initiative to find out why will give you enough information to resolve the negotiation successfully.

So, the next time you hear no, don’t think of how to counter it.  Think of how to understand it and ask the question “Why?”

© Copyright 2011, Katie Donovan. All rights reserved. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited