When an Ordinary Discussion Becomes a Negotiation

We negotiate everyday without realizing it. You ask the person in the cube next to you to lower the volume on his speaker phone. His response is a flat-out, “No.” Now you’re in a negotiation – you want one thing and he wants another.

Informal negotiation

Or it could be a leader who needs to orchestrate the distribution of resources on a cross-functional initiative where every group has its own set of priorities and she’s got to get them to align. That’s a negotiation.

But when something starts as a chat or a discussion, we often don’t recognize when it’s turned the corner and become a negotiation.

And what exactly is negotiation? It’s the process of reaching an agreement that everyone can live with. And that’s it.

Informal Negotiation

Formal negotiations are easy to identify – they happen when two or more people arrange a meeting or series of meetings in order to arrive at an outcome that meets the wishes or pressing needs of both sides. Examples are salary negotiations, contract discussions, labor negotiations, territorial disputes.

Informal negotiations, on the other hand, are generally unplanned and less easily recognized. Here’s how you can tell that your chat or discussion has become one of these informal negotiations.

Negotiations are:

  • Opinion-based. When two or more people in the discussion have opposing views and the situation needs resolution.
  • Subjective. When individual goals and outcomes — rather than company or group goals — are the focus.
  • Emotional. When the discussion becomes (or has the potential to become) emotional.

Negotiation is Not Problem-Solving

What sets an informal negotiation apart from a problem-solving discussion is that negotiation is about people getting their own goals met, their own needs satisfied. Whereas true problem-solving is about getting group goals met. Negotiation is about individual goals; problem-solving is about common goals.

And in problem-solving we usually take a logical, objective, fact-based approach to working out a good solution. We cite solid reasons why something should be considered. And everyone is willing to listen to the possible solutions.

Logic and Facts are Killing Your Negotiations

But negotiation is emotional, not logical. And it’s subjective not objective. And it’s not fact-based — it’s opinion based. It’s about getting to a solution that works for us, and not necessarily for the whole. If it works for the whole, great. But that’s not usually primary.

That means that when we’ve got an emotional, subjective, opinion-based situation, the use of logical reasons to try to convince the other person to see things our way almost never works. In fact, it generally backfires.

Find the Underlying Needs

The everyday negotiation calls for a needs-based — not a fact-based — orientation. To be successful in informal negotiations, you have to ask questions to uncover the underlying needs and concerns of the other party, and then find ways to meet those needs and concerns.

Rather than producing a host of reasons why the other person should see things your way, you must understand why they’re not. Will they be losing something or risking something if they go along with you? What’s driving them to say no? Only then can you figure out how you might get them to say yes.

When we recognize these everyday situations as negotiation instead of treating them as problem-solving situations, we can get to resolution sooner. So don’t shower them with logic. Instead ask a few questions, get at what they really want, make sure you let them know what you really want, and find an outcome that works for both of you.

Question: Have you found yourself in an informal negotiation? Or do you have a question or a tip to share? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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