Friday, 16 October 2009

How good a negotiator are you?

Guest post by Stephen Adshead

One evening a blue monster, who lived on the west side of a mountain, called through a hole, “Can you see how beautiful it is? Day is departing.”

“Day departing? Called back his neighbour to the east, a red monster. “You mean night arriving, you twit”

“Don’t call me a twit, you dumbo, or I’ll get angry“ fumed the blue monster, and he felt so annoyed that he could hardly sleep.

Owners of small children might recognise the hand of David McKee, creator of Mr Benn, and the author of Two Monsters. Arguing as these monsters do can be commonplace in a range of scenarios, not least parties in litigation. The language may be more or less colourful and, if lawyers are involved, phrases like ‘with all due respect’ and ‘your claim is speculative, misconceived and meretricious’ are perhaps more likely than ‘smelly custard tart face’.

But, as in the case of the blue and red monster, arguing in these scenarios is partly the result of a failure to see the other’s point of view, east versus west. Continuing the argument in a monstrously aggressive manner will also impede opportunities for successful resolution.

The blue monster ultimately batters his point home, coupling his ‘point’ with name-calling and, when that is not sufficiently persuasive, rocks. These rocks tend to miss the red monster but hit the mountain. When we, and monsters, engage in difficult conversations there is a tendency to repeat our points, assuming that the other person didn’t understand initially, rather than taking the time to understand the other person’s narrative and the underlying reason for the conflict. How could the monsters here have persuaded the other as to his story, without the need for gravel?

In the seminal (but unfortunately titled) book ‘Getting to Yes’, Ury and Fisher of Harvard Law School advocated interest-based, as opposed to positional, negotiation, a strategy that has become known as the ‘Harvard (or Win-Win) Method’. This method of negotiation focuses on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the interests of the disputants and has been applied to a variety of situations, including negotiating with a second hand car dealer, the current healthcare debate in America, and negotiations with terrorists.

It has even been applied to the most resistant participants to any form of negotiation – children. The literature on interest-based negotiation continues to grow and the students of the programme on negotiation at the Harvard Law School include not just lawyers, but also psychologists, economists and anthropologists. I won’t attempt to summarise their output, but if it piques your interest I recommend the interview with retired NYPD hostage negotiator, Dr Hugh McGowan, on to gain an insight into how this negotiation strategy can work and ideas from him such as ‘if you listen to them, they will listen to you’.

The competitive amongst you (which I suspect will include all of the lawyers) can test your negotiation skills online. Click the link below to try and sell some nature prints at the best price to moustachioed cartoon character Bill Gimel. Tip – There is another person that you need to persuade.

Had the monsters been blessed with a Harvard law degree, the internet or opposable thumbs, they might not have ultimately destroyed the mountain, thereby realising, as they watched together both the arrival of the night and the departure of the day, that neither monster merited rock-assisted vitriol. As it was, they walked to the middle of the mess and remarked ‘that was rather fun, pity about the mountain’.

1 comment:

  1. Cool article Steve. It strikes me after reading it that perhaps a policy of 'we don't negotiate with terrorists' isn't always the best policy, especially if they want to be listened to.
    Gosh it's horrible when you feel like just writing the word terrorist will attract unwanted attention online. Sorry if it does :(