Principled Negotiation: How to Negotiate with Someone You Actually Care About

A client (we’ll call him Jason) recently came to me for counseling prior to a negotiation between him and his business partner. Jason and his partner have been friends for 20 years, but they have only recently gone into business together. Jason had a list of concerns and steps that he wanted to see taken; basically he wrote an entire script to present to his partner about what “needs to happen next.” Upon hearing Jason’s list, the first question I asked him, which anyone should ask themselves before beginning negotiation is: Is this going to be a negotiation or a domination? In other words, is this a subordinate to whom you plan to TELL the way it is, or is this a partner whom you want to support and be supported by? Jason’s answer was that this is a partner; subsequently, my argument was that Jason was approaching what we would call a principled negotiation with his partner contrarily as a domination with a subordinate.

Conflict Resolution Strategies & Principled Negotiation

Generally, there are three types of broad strategies when it comes to dealing with conflict. The first is submission. The second is domination. And the third is conflict resolution, with negotiation being one of several strategies falling under this latter category. After getting clear that Jason wanted to approach his partner as a partner — not simply as a subordinate ready to take orders — I offered three core principles to keep in mind during the negotiation:

1) Show him that you care by listening to him first. Set aside the script when the negotiation begins. Don’t begin by talking about yourself, explaining your position, or telling him the way it is. Instead, ask your partner what is happening for him, what he’s feeling and perceiving. This way, he knows you actually care, AND you understand where he’s actually coming from, not where you assume or preconceive his position and interests to be. Listen with focus and empathy. Stay open-minded to his concerns. While listening to him, do not try to defend yourself or explain yourself, do not go into judgments about who is right or wrong or what is good or bad. Just stay open to hearing him and any potential solutions he presents. Remember the adage: no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

2) Express to him where you are at. Tell him what you are feeling and needing, and what your underlying concerns are. Make it all about YOU, not about him. Do not place any judgments about who is right or wrong. You can cite specific behaviors you notice from him and tell him how they make you feel. But do not judge the behaviors as being right or wrong.

3) Present actionable solutions without judgment. After showing him you care and telling him where you’re at, offer some actionable solutions. Remember that if you are negotiating, you are not telling him that you are right and he’s wrong, you’re not telling him what is what or what is going to happen. You’re simply offering solutions and/or requests and asking if he’s willing to participate. The solutions should imply no judgment about who was wrong or right, and they should be very explicit about behaviors going forward, rather than abstract. For instance instead of asking him to be a “better partner,” you would give him specific behaviors that you are requesting, which will lead you to feel that he is a better partner (e.g. “If you call me once a day to check in, I would really feel supported by you.”).

Negotiation is often a tricky endeavor, because you’re not just dealing with people’s positions, but rather people’s core, underlying needs and feelings. Principled negotiation especially, wherein the parties actually care about the relationship, requires an open mind and heart, from both parties. This goes for intimate partners, family, and good friends, as well as business partners. Often we have trouble getting past emotionally charged roadblocks in the communication, so it always helps to have a third-party mediator or facilitator during a negotiation if possible, or even a negotiation coach like Jason had in me. But if nothing else, keep these three points in mind, and you’ll be ahead of the game next time you negotiate with someone you actually care about.

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