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4 Steps to Enhance Negotiation Outcomes

Pack the Toolbox With Preparation, Information, Persuasion, and Closure

It does not matter if you are negotiating with a client, attorneys on the other side of a case, co-workers, or a family member, the more negotiation tools in the proverbial “toolbox” the better the outcome. There are several key areas that one needs using this toolbox to focus on and those include: advance preparation, persuasion, acquiring information, and closure options. This article discusses these areas to effectively mediate or negotiate.

4 Steps to Enhance Negotiation Outcomes: Pack the Toolbox With Preparation, Information, Persuasion, and Closure

It does not matter if you are negotiating with a client, attorneys on the other side of a case, co-workers, or a family member, the more negotiation tools in the proverbial “toolbox” the better the outcome. There are several key areas that one needs using this toolbox to focus on and those include: advance preparation, persuasion, acquiring information, and closure options. This article discusses these areas to effectively mediate or negotiate.

Preparation

Make no mistake, preparation prior to the start of any negotiation is the most important aspect in the process. Begin with a list of all the issues to be resolved, and then make a list of all the issues you think the other side wants addressed. Even if the other side has not made a demand or indicated in any way what they want, try to envision what would be important to them. Beginning to think about the other side and their interests, this exercise in anticipation and tempering expectations enhances the probability of finding a settlement.

Next, for every issue identified, try to think of at least three possible ways to resolve it. This is challenging; however, when there are multiple issues, mixing and matching the various issues with a number of potential options to help “expand the pie”. It keeps everyone from getting boxed into a corner with only one way out. The person who enters any negotiation with the greatest number of options invariably will come out far more satisfied than the person who had no options or alternatives to the mantra, “It’s my way or the highway.” Be sure to explore and identify multiple options for the other side’s issues.

Having completed this assessment of identifying the issues and potential options not only helps finding common ground and solutions, but also provides insight that will be useful to apply to the following steps of how to persuade and acquire additional critical information.

Persuasion

Not everyone views a problem or dispute from the same perspective, so once all the issues are identified, it is time to focus on ways to educate and persuade someone who holds a different point of view. To help enlighten the other side and to persuade them that new alternatives might just be the answer, think about the benefits they will receive from finding a solution.

As a person prepares for the negotiation, it is prudent to answer one important question that the other side will have: “What’s in it for me?” A key to finding common ground is to demonstrate the benefits of settlement to all the negotiation participants. People do not want to leave the negotiation with their heads down and nothing to “write home” about or that will help to “feed” their ego.

In order to persuade someone to accept specific terms of a negotiated settlement, they must see how it provides a benefit that litigation or not settling offers. For example, maybe the negotiated settlement resolves a problem, which if it continued could become public, which in turn could damage a reputation or make shareholders unhappy. Perhaps settling an employment related matter means that the office can improve its productivity, or resolving a major financial issue means that funding will continue for future projects.

Answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” by demonstrating to the other side that they will emerge from the negotiations as a “winner” can significantly boost the probability of a settlement—one that will hold up over time.

Information

Acquiring information is essential. There is nothing to negotiate when people cannot exchange information. There are several ways to generate useful information, while at the same time, understanding and appreciating how asking the wrong question can shut down negotiations is essential.

There are three basic types of questions: open-end, closed-ended, and those that begin with “why”. Open-ended questions are ideal, and they begin with who, what, when, where, and how. This type of question opens the conversation and brings out information. Closed-ended questions begin with “is/are” or “did/do” and require only a one-word answer—”yes” or “no”. These questions shut down responses and less information is provided. Beginning a question with “why” places the responder on a psychological defensive and they are more likely to construct an answer that withholds details.

Compare these questions: “What factors helped you decide to fire Mr. Smith?” versus “Why did you fire Mr. Smith?” Both questions are asking for information regarding the firing, but the open-ended question will generate more information. Unlike the question that begins with “why”, the person is not put on the defensive.

Consider also the additional problem created by closed-ended questions—they not only generate a limited response, but also may provide totally incorrect information. One famous closed-ended question is, “Did you stop beating your wife?” If the person says “yes” it implies the person beat his wife and has now stopped; if the person says “no” it implies that he beat his wife and is continuing to do so. It begs the questions that the person has never beaten his wife! 

Other ways to generate information and to persuade people is to give what are termed “soft commands”, which begin with “tell” or “describe”. For example, “Describe what you learned that made you decide to fire Mr. Smith” or “Tell me what motivated you to fire Mr. Smith.” In addition, a negotiator can ask for help, and since most individuals are willing to help another person, it is possible more information will be forthcoming. One example is “Help me appreciate what decisions you faced when you decided to fire Mr. Smith.” All these examples illustrate how simple word changes can influence how much and what type of information is generated—some questions just do a much better job than others.

Closure

No matter the negotiation outcome, leave on a positive note. Just because the negotiations did not resolve either a few, some, or many issues during that session, leaving the door open for a renewal of the negotiations is a wise move. There are many instances that once the negotiators have had time to “step back” and reflect, they begin to see new ways to move forward and find a negotiated settlement.

Acknowledge the other side’s efforts and indicate that if anyone has any additional thoughts, to call. Be sure to thank everyone for trying, give good eye contact, smile, and shake hands. There is nothing to lose by leaving on a positive note.

Conclusion

Trying to solve problems by negotiation can be hard work and stressful; however, with preparation, using subtle persuasion, and exchanging information can do a lot to make the process more productive and even enjoyable. If there is no settlement, then ending on a positive note leaves the door open for further conversations.


TES founder, Nancy Neal Yeend, has served as a mediator for over 30 years. Her mediation practice focuses on helping businesses resolve disputes from pre-litigation through trial and even at the appellate level. During her career, Ms. Yeend often reflected on “What if they had done ‘X’ then could the conflict have been avoided?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Research demonstrates that preventing conflict has huge benefits to businesses. Controversies and conflict cause stress, and people working in stressful situations are more likely to develop significant health issues: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer.

Reducing and preventing stress has multiple benefits: productivity increases and absenteeism is reduced, which in turn helps reduce healthcare costs. These factors significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. Our name, The End Strategy, evolved from the desire to tell people, up front, what TES does. The End Strategy says it all—TES helps put an end to business related conflict. There is also a historical footnote: the founder’s last name, Yeend, means “the end” in old English!

Nancy Neal Yeend can be contacted at (503) 481.2986 or by e-mail to Nancy@TESresults.com.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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