Respect and empathy for the person sitting on the other side of the table is key if a negotiation is to be a success.
The world is becoming increasingly polarized as the disruption wrought by the financial crisis and the pandemic pushes people into opposing camps. Yet if we are going to solve our most pressing problems – the climate emergency, gaping inequality and social unrest – we are going to have to learn to listen to the other side. Negotiating tactics provide us with a toolkit to start a constructive dialogue and resolve conflict – whether you may be dealing with a customer complaint, a tricky supplier, or a hostile takeover bid.
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The first step is to view negotiation as a relationship not a transaction. Many organizational and political leaders don’t take the time to build a relationship first, instead moving to the bargaining phase too soon. This is a mistake. By respecting the other party’s motivations and opinions and showing empathy, you have a good foundation for dialogue. What made Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, and former US President Ronald Reagan successful, was their ability to build a bond, respect each other and find the common goal for the concessions for nuclear disarmament.
This applies to the corporate world, too. One reason for the success of the 2006 merger of The Walt Disney Company and the computer animation studio Pixar was the tone set in early negotiations. Despite being the stronger party, Disney’s people listened to their counterparts at Pixar, accepting its employment conditions, which helped retain talent, while Disney CEO Bob Iger also reportedly asked Pixar employees how to improve Disney. Over the next decade, Pixar added significant value to Disney by helping improve computer-generated animations for the whole group.
It’s important to move away from a win-lose model of negotiation and seek a mutual gains approach. Be open and curious about what you can learn from the other side. By adopting a positive mindset and establishing trust, you can override the brain’s natural urge to search for negativity. A CEO at a big pharmaceutical company urged his staff to start viewing the Food and Drugs Administration as partners rather than the enemy, by acknowledging that the regulator might know more about their medicines than the company itself. Good disagreement often leads to better results by establishing a shared problem-solving relationship.