Transforming Us vs. Them into We

In Leadership by Lisa Selzler

Whether you work in conservation, community health, social services, or another mission-driven field, negotiation skills are a must-have item in your toolbox. In the simplest terms, negotiation is about reaching agreement with another party through discussion. A common misunderstanding is that a negotiation is always an “us vs. them” situation. But always approaching the other party as an adversary – while appropriate in some instances – can cause you to miss out on some important potential benefits.

It is often more strategic to approach a negotiation in the spirit of partnership and seek to enlist the other party as your partner in that negotiation. Here are the 5 keys of successful negotiating. If you are facing a situation that requires negotiation, take a step back and revisit the basics before you proceed.

1. Invest first. Influence later.

Making your adversary into your partner doesn’t require conceding all your needs in order to reach agreement. But, you can only influence another if you have built a relationship with them first.

Building a foundation of trust and open dialogue is a critical precursor to exerting influence and working together toward an agreement. Absent such a foundation, preserving the relationship for the long-term is unlikely. Plan on making an investment in building this new relationship upfront, and on making an ongoing investment over time! Be intentional about the type of relationship you want with this partner and conscious of how your interpersonal dynamics support that relationship.

Being an excellent listener is critical, even more important than brilliantly conveying your needs. Be aware of the institutional vs. personal relationship you are cultivating (ideally you are cultivating both!). How can you be seen as a human being and not just an institution? If history or politics makes this piece especially tricky, assign the best person for this important job of relationship investment.

2. Think partnership. Think long-term.

It is natural to want to focus on reaching agreement as quickly as possible. However, you probably want your relationship with this partner to continue for the long haul.

This means proceeding in a way that puts the importance of the long-term relationship ahead of any short-term gains. Elevating the metric you use to measure your negotiation performance will help you approach the relationship more strategically and position your relationship for future results.

3. Embrace conflict.

Conflict with others is inevitable, so you might as well prepare and plan for it!  During a negotiation process, conflict often is precipitated by distorted perceptions, negative stereotyping, and communications breakdowns. Consider ways you can get ahead of these should they arise. It is also useful to understand your natural tendencies in relation to conflict. What’s your natural response to conflict? Do you love it or avoid conflict at all cost?

Conflict can be your friend during a negotiation. Focus on understanding your natural tendencies and predicting potential conflict flash points. This will help you navigate conflicts effectively; and a well-managed conflict can quickly deepen a relationship and spur creative solutions that benefit you and your partner.

4. Employ appropriate conflict management styles.

When conflicts do arise, strive to employ the conflict management style most appropriate to the situation. There is a continuum of conflict management styles and all conflict management styles are appropriate in certain situations. Being adept at all styles is core to being a good negotiator.

Sometimes you need to hold your ground (compete) and other times accommodation (“I lose, you win”) or collaboration (“win-win”) is in the best interest of the long-term relationship. Be conscious of which conflict management style you intend to employ and why. Adapting your conflict management style to the situation enables you to make smart choices and bring to the discussion what is most needed.

5. Get outside!

If at all possible, get out of the stuffy conference room and spend some time together in the great outdoors with your negotiation partner. This helps to shift the focus back to where it needs to be – on the resource – instead of on the personalities involved in the negotiation. So, leave the whiteboard behind and invite your negotiating partner to have difficult discussions in different setting.

Get Started.

Here are some questions you can use to prepare for your next negotiation, get started on the right foot, and turn a potential adversary into a powerful partner!

  • Who are your most important negotiation partners?
  • How can you invest in the relationship more effectively?
  • How can you elevate how you are evaluating your performance with your negotiation partner?
  • What are your natural responses to conflict, and what can you plan for