“My late English teacher, Mr Stewart, used to say: ‘When you think about others first, you serve yourself best.’ Take this into account when you negotiate, because people sense selfishness in others very quickly, and it creates mistrust.”
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that until I read Gavin Presman’s Negotiation: How to Craft Agreement that Give Everyone More… I considered the concept of negotiation to be adversarial—designed to clearly identify a winner and a loser in a situation (no doubt influenced by representations of negotiation in popular culture, I’m thinking specifically of Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, swapping out the chairs in his office so that he would literally have the higher ground). I’m so glad that Gavin Presman has proven this assumption wrong. In Negotiation, Presman lays out a 7 step process for crafting negotiations. His focus is not on arming the reader with weapons against an enemy—it’s on adopting a collaborative mindset in order to create agreements that benefit all parties. Peppered with actionable exercises, checklists, and an easy to follow 7 step framework, this book provides a simple and powerful process for creating agreements that give everyone more.
The Big Idea
Negotiations are Collaborative
"The first step is to prepare mentally: thinking through what outcome you want from the deal and how you can collaborate with the other party to achieve it. Second, you can begin to prepare a list of what you may be able to offer in any bargaining scenario. Third, you step into your partner’s shoes and prepare from their perspective."
In the 7 step framework for crafting agreements, the first 3 steps are all about preparation. The 3 steps are, 1. Preparing yourself for a collaborative negotiation, 2. Preparing a plan, and 3. Understanding your partner’s point of view. It’s not about arming yourself for battle—instead, the focus is on thoughtful preparation to ensure that you don’t get caught off guard and agree to terms without thinking them through.
A tactic that you can try today is to seek agreement, in principle, of your intentions before you begin a negotiation. This ensures that you are on equal footing with the person you are negotiating with, while creating an end-point for “sales” conversations and a starting point for negotiations. If you’re looking to sell a house, you could ask a prospective buyer if they are sure the property is right for their family and gain agreement in principle, which allows you to start negotiating the details. If you’re seeking a raise or promotion, you could ask your boss to agree that you currently contributing at a high level, and that you share a vision for your future with the organization. These kinds of agreements open the door for a truly collaborative negotiation.
This will kick off the preparation stage of your negotiation, where you will prepare a list of variables, establish hard lines and potential areas for compromise, and most importantly, prime your negotiating partner for a truly collaborative process.
List Your Variables
"Variables are the things that add value to one or the other party as part of a deal, and good variables will have a magical quality to them. That is, a good variable adds balance in one person’s favour without costing the other too much."
In step 2 of Presman’s framework, negotiators are invited to come up with a list of variables: things that can be offered and traded in an effort to help both parties work toward an agreement. Think about what would be low cost to you, but high value for the other party (and conversely, think about variables that would be low cost for them, but valuable for you).
For example, let’s say that you’re preparing to negotiate a new freelance contract. You have established a collaborative mindset, and both parties are interested in reaching an agreement. Chances are, you’re not just negotiating a price for the contract, but that you’ll also need to set expectations and negotiate terms ahead of time. So, if you begin the negotiation and find that your client isn’t close to your compensation expectations, you can work from your list of variables to continue the conversation and get closer to an agreement. At that price, you’ll need a longer turnaround time, and will be unavailable for immediate revisions. If they come up a bit, you can provide a free consultation to get to know the project team, etc.
Think about an upcoming (or imagined) scenario where you would need to negotiate. Write down a list of variables that you could offer, and a list of variables that your negotiating partner may offer and/or counter with. Be as expansive and creative as possible. Remember, you don’t have to share your variables with anyone, but having them at hand as you begin negotiating will help you continue to foster a collaborative relationship, and ultimately reach an agreement that works for everyone.
The Human Operating System
"The misunderstanding that plagues so many interactions is the belief that our feelings come from our circumstances, that what we are feeling is the result of the situation we find ourselves in. While it looks like this is the case, it really isn’t. What I am suggesting is that we often fail to recognize that our thinking is no more than a personal point of view, created internally, and completely governed by our moods of level of awareness at a particular time. This leads to countless arguments, fruitless discussions, and frustrating hours of negotiations."
Have you ever started an argument because you had a headache? Lashed out at a loved-one when you were ravenously hungry? Looked up from your desk and felt a twinge of resentment when you see a co-worker grabbing a break? If not, congratulations on being a perfect human being—I’m willing to bet you’re in the minority. In each of these examples, the response has very little to do with the actual circumstances. You’re not really furious at the people around you, you’re just tired, hungry, frustrated, etc. Those internal feelings dictate your outer actions.
Presman argues that when we are attempting to negotiate, we need to understand these thought patterns, and recognize when they are getting in our own way. We also must be willing and able to admit that others have a different perspective of the world. A person who takes a few days to respond to your request for a meeting is most likely just busy—not avoiding us or demonstrating that they are unwilling to collaborate. A manager who is routinely cranky first thing in the morning is more likely frustrated by a difficult commute (or just grumpy before their 1st cup of coffee), not making a passive aggressive comment on their team’s performance.
Ironically, if we enter a negotiation with the idea that we are entering an adversarial exchange, we are much more likely to treat the other party as an adversary—which can shut down collaborative negotiation. If you’re only thinking in terms of winners and losers, you’ll be out to “beat” your opponent, and less likely to engage in creative problem solving. Presman argues that in negotiations, we need to be highly aware of our own biases and perceptions, as well as to consider the state of mind of the person we are negotiating with.
Negotiating isn’t about defeating an enemy, or tricking another person into giving you more than you deserve—it’s about collaborating to reach an agreement that works for all parties involved. I’ll be keeping this book close at hand for the foreseeable future. It’s a fantastic resource, not only for preparing for the big ticket negotiations that we all must navigate in our lives, but also for the seemingly minor interactions we encounter each day when we need to reach an agreement. For anyone who needs to convince a child to put their shoes on, wants to revisit the division of labor in their home, needs to align a team as they begin a new project, or is looking to negotiate a job offer, this 7 step framework will help you create more collaborative, and more effective, agreements.