‘Getting to yes’ is a mysterious art, says Matthew Gwyther, but heeding the lessons of nuclear brinkmanship, gangsters and lightsabre-wielding CEOs can help.
Few of us enjoy not getting our own way in life. To take our place in society and the world of work, we must all learn the art of ‘getting to yes’ without resorting to tears, heel-digging and tantrums.
Negotiating comes more easily to some than others, yet many skills can be acquired and developed through practice.
The one hard and fast rule when it comes to negotiating successfully is: understand the other side. You have to assert yourself when it comes to getting what you want, but the best negotiators appreciate the value of empathy. They know that negotiation is not a brutal zero sum game.
So, to take one famous example, John F Kennedy was able to get Soviet nuclear missiles out of Cuba in 1962 because he saved Nikita Khrushchev’s face – publicly pledging not to invade Cuba and privately promising to withdraw some ageing missiles from Turkey.
So, think about what whoever you’re negotiating with wants and needs. Read up on them beforehand and scan them during the negotiation. Know your facts. And make sure you listen. Understanding what makes your opposite number tick is vital – and this means watching what they don’t say as well as what they do.
Every negotiation has an emotional dynamic but don’t let things get heated and personal. It didn’t help Steve Jobs when he threatened to destroy Dropbox after its CEO Drew Houston refused to sell the company to Apple. People can be unpredictable and irrational when their emotions are aroused and they feel they are being bullied or led in a direction against their will.
As in every face-off – from a pitched battle to a football match – planning is key. In the heat of the haggle there isn’t time to improvise. People are far less likely to feel hustled if everything seems logical and unanswerable.
Don’t depend on a single strategy – develop a range of responses to push the negotiation in your favour.
Negotiation expert Clive Rich’s wise words on preparing for battle are worth writing down and answering before negotiations begin.
1. Who is on the other side?
2. What is our history of dealing with them?
3. What do we know about them as individuals?
4. Who do we need on our side? Sometimes teams do it better.
5. What role will everyone play? Get organised into individual roles.
6. What’s our bottom line?
7. What concessions can either side afford to make?
8. In what climate do we want the negotiation to take place?
9. Who holds the bargaining power?
10. What will we do if we can’t get a deal done?
The use of violence, implicit or otherwise, is a no-no. Making people ‘offers they cannot refuse’ is strictly for the heirs of Don Corleone. If things cut up rough, try the following. “Just imagine how fast we could get this deal done if neither of us threatened the other…” The moral high ground will instantly be yours.
That said, an unusual form of combat did sway one of the most surprising negotiations in recent corporate history. George Lucas was finally persuaded to consider selling his company to Walt Disney when the latter’s CEO Bob Iger challenged him to a mock lightsabre battle in front of hundreds of cheering fans at the opening of a new Disneyland ride.
☛ Matthew Gwyther is the editor of Management Today. He recommends that readers interested in knowing more about the mysteries of negotiation should study the career of Thomas Cromwell