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Roger Fisher & William Ury: Principled Negotiation

While to the general public, The Art of the Deal may be the best known book on negotiation, to anyone who needs negotiation to be a sustainable part of your professional toolkit, the first and best book to start with has to be Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Indeed, for any manager or professional, this has to be one of the dozen most important books you can read.

Negotiation is conflict conducted in a civilised manner. And what Fisher and Ury tell us is that you are always going to be more successful if you carry it out with strong moral principles. They set out four powerful principles. But it is, perhaps, their solution to one of the biggest problems that negotiators face, which is their biggest contribution to doing a good deal.

Roger Fisher & William Ury
Roger Fisher & William Ury

Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher was born in 1922, and graduated from Harvard College in 1943, just before the United States entered the War. Fisher flew meteorological reconnaissance planes and returned to civilian life to complete a law degree at Harvard.

He then spent some time in Paris working on the European post-war recovery Marshall Plan, before returning to the States to join a Washington law firm. There he had the chance to present cases to the Supreme Court.

In 1958, he returned to Harvard Law School as a member of faculty, being appointed professor in 1960. There, Fisher became increasingly interested in how people resolve disputes, having lost too many friends during the War. So, in 1979, he and Ury co-founded the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Fisher spent a lot of time working on some of the biggest negotiations in global politics, including the Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt, and in South Africa, as Apartheid was finally ending. When not travelling, mediating and advising, he continued to teach, both at Harvard and many other prestigious institutions, as well as writing articles and books. In 1984, he founded the Conflict Management Group, which later merged with the Mercy Corps.

In 1992, Fisher formally retired as Professor and became an emeritus professor, continuing to teach and write into his 80s. Roger Fisher died in 2012.

William Ury

William Ury was born in 1953. He studied Social Anthropology at Yale and went on to research his PhD at Harvard. In 1997, Fisher happened to read Ury’s research paper on the Middle East peace negotiations, and was impressed. He sent a copy to the US Assistant Secretary of State leading the negotiations, and invited Ury to work with him. They were to have a long and fruitful working relationship.

Working together in the Harvard Negotiation Project that they co-founded allowed the two to help each other develop their thinking and the 1981 book, Getting to Yesencapsulated their thinking at the time. It rapidly became a best-seller and remains so today. Both have written numerous additional books since.

Ury set up the Nuclear Negotiation Project in 1982 and also worked as a mediator and negotiation advisor alongside his teaching. In 2007, he also founded Abraham’s Path, to start on the journey of lasting Middle East peace. You can hear him speak about it at TEDx below.

Principled Negotiation

In Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury set out two overarching beliefs for Principled Negotiating:

  1. Participants are problem solvers
  2. The goal is a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicably

They also set out four essential principles that make negotiations as effective as possible; especially when both parties adhere to them:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on using objective criteria

The BATNA

Perhaps the best known concept from the book is the idea of a BATNA – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If you aren’t able to reach agreement through the negotiation you are in now, what is the best alternative available to you?

That’s your BATNA.

If you cannot reach a deal in your negotiation that is better than your BATNA, then any deal you agree to represents an incremental loss. So you should, at that point, walk away.

The Circle Chart

Another great tool Fisher and Ury offer in Getting to Yes is the Circle Chart. We wrote about it in an earlier Pocketblog.

More on Negotiation

Another earlier Pocketblog article about negotiation is Deborah Kolb: Shadow Negotiation. Kolb is a collaborator of Ury’s, at Harvard Law School’s Project on Negotiation.

William Ury at TEDx

In this talk, called The Walk from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’, William Ury offers a way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations.

[ted id=1017]

 

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Deborah Kolb: Shadow Negotiation

Deborah Kolb is an academic who has chosen a precise area of study and contributed to our insights. She has examined the intersection of leadership, negotiation, and gender, to better understand how women can negotiate for the conditions that will allow them to lead successfully.

I don’t often editorialise, but at a time when a rise in women in national and global leadership roles attracts much comment, it does seem as though any work that will allow men and women  an equal footing in leadership must be a good thing. Fifty per cent of the talent pool for leadership roles is systemically under-represented. When women hold leadership roles it is still seen by many as worthy of remark. Deborah Kolb’s work may help women to compete more fairly to secure the leadership roles they deserve.

 

Deborah Kolb
Deborah Kolb

Very Short Biography

Deborah Kolb was awarded  a BA in History and Economics at Vasser College in 1965, and went on to start a PhD in Organisational Studies and Labour Relations at the MIT Sloan School of Management. While studying for her doctoral thesis (which she defended successfully in 1981) she took an academic appointment at Simmons College, becoming Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership in 2006. Since 2010, she has held the chair with Emerita status.

Kolb’s work on negotiation and gender came to prominence with her 2000 book ‘Shadow Negotiation: How Women Can Master the Hidden Agendas That Determine Bargaining Success‘, which she co-wrote with Judith Williams. This was widely praised and one of Harvard Business Review’s top ten business books of 2000. Her 2015 book, ‘Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins into Big Gains‘ was also well received and rated as one of the best books on negotiation of that year.

From 1991 to 1994, Kolb also served as Executive Director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Negotiation (Founded by William Ury and Roger Fisher), where she remains on the faculty, with Ury and Amy Cuddy.

Shadow Negotiation

When we negotiate, whether it is a formal contractual negotiation, a career stage, or just for a role in our organisation,  Kolb describes a second negotiation running in parallel: a Shadow Negotiation.

Alongside the formal discussion, each negotiator will also be trying to put their own interests and needs to the fore. They will be promoting their opinions, and trying to win the co-operation of the other person. This shadow negotiation often determines the outcome of the primary bargaining process, yet women often fare poorly here, no matter how well prepared they are for the structured negotiating process.

Kolb suggests that traditionally women have not fared well because they often miss the  moments in a negotiation, where the surface position is actually negotiable. They ‘take no for an answer’ rather than as a new bargaining position. Women’s more natural collaborative approach can also harm their shadow negotiation. In trying  to be responsive to the other side’s position, they can be interpreted as accommodating it, and making concessions, which is seen as weak.

The result is women’s outcomes from negotiations are poorer in terms of cash, perks, prestigious assignments, or roles in decision-making, than those of their male colleagues.

So Kolb would argue that women need to spot these looming acts of self-sabotaging the shadow negotiation, by being aware of how other people’s approaches can trigger them. The research that Kolb and Williams present, in their book, suggests three strategic levers to guide the shadow negotiation. These seem equally valuable to men and women.

  1. Power Moves
  2. Process Moves
  3. Appreciative Moves

If all of this sounds a little like the exercise of political acumen, read on. It is!

Power Moves

These are the strategies that get you to the formal negotiating table.  The moves are:

  • to offer incentives that show the other party the value of negotiating
  • to enlist a coalition of allies who will support you
  • create pressure by showing the risks of the status quo

Process Moves

These strategies ensure that the bargaining process works effectively for the negotiator, by setting the right ground rules. You can do this by getting your idea into the discussion early, before any conflict can cause your counter-party to be deaf to it. Ideally, anchor the negotiation around your point of view before it starts. You could also reframe the negotiation process as being about something the other person deeply values. Finally, you can use behind-the-scenes lobbying to build consensus in parallel with the formal negotiation.

Appreciative Moves

These are trust-building strategies that can unlock deadlock. They move the surface and shadow negotiations away from adversarial, by appreciating the other person’s concerns and values. The authors suggest:

  • Helping others to save face
  • Keeping the dialogue going, through deadlock. Stop trying to get agreement and focus on communicating concerns and aspirations
  • Look for the points of view that may break the deadlock, by setting a new direction for discussions

Can we become better negotiators?

Without a doubt, yes. This is the mission of the Harvard Project on Negotiation. Deborah Kolb, as a significant contributor to that, has a lot to teach us.

Recommended reading:

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Alan Sugar: Street Smart

While not quite the classic ‘rags to riches’ story, Alan Sugar is a genuine example of the trope of a smart, hard working street trader, who makes it to the big time. And what a big time it is. The Sunday Times Rich List rates him as a Sterling billionaire. It’s easy to feel we know Alan Sugar, through his successful appearances on the UK version of The Apprentice. I suspect that what we see on screen, however, is a character: part Alan Sugar, and part the creation of the shows directors, producers and editors.

Alan Sugar

Short Biography

Alan Michael Sugar was born in 1947 and grew up in Hackney, in East London. His father worked in the East End garment industry, as did my grandmother. After leaving school at 16, Sugar spent a short time in the Civil Service, before investing £50 of his savings in a van and some electrical goods to sell from it.

Sugar was an adept street trader and gradually moved up the value chain to wholesaling and import, founding his first company, Amstrad (AMS Trading), in 1968. But Sugar realised he would only find the big profit in manufacturing. The business he understood best was consumer electronics, so Amstrad’s first manufacturing venture was record turntables. This was the first of many examples of Sugar finding ways to reduce manufacturing costs substantially, so he could out-compete rivals on price.

The 1980s were great years for Sugar and Amstrad, starting in 1980 with its flotation on the London Stock Exchange. The company grew rapidly and launched its first computer in 1984. Although outcompeted by Apple, Commodore and the BBC Micro, it did sell well domestically, as did the following year’s business-oriented word processor. The 1980s ended with the launch of Amstrad’s first satellite TV receiver dish – a line that was to be extremely profitable, with the growth of satellite broadcasting by Sky, BSB, and later, the merged BSkyB. The 1990s were more troubling for Amstrad, which suffered a number of commercial setbacks.

I cannot help wondering if Sugar ‘took his eye off the ball’ in the 1990s, because this was the time too, that he bought and chaired the Premier League football Club Tottenham Hotspur (1991-2001). He later described this period as a waste of his life, and it was certainly a fractious time at the club.

In 2007, Sugar cleared house, selling off Amstrad to business partners BSkyB and his final stake in Tottenham Hotspur.

In 2000, Sugar was knighted “for services to the Home Computer and Electronics Industry” and became Sir Alan Sugar, and then in 2009, was enobled as Baron Sugar of Clapton, to take up a place in Gordon Brown’s Labour Government, sitting in the House of Lords. In 2015, Sugar resigned the Labour Whip, saying that the party’s policies had drifted too far in a direction away from the needs of British business.

Amstrad is also a serious philanthropist, donating substantial funds and time to care and arts organisations. He has written four books too, of which the most important and best selling is his autobiography, What You See Is What You Get. And, of course, he is best known in the UK for his appearance in every series of BBC TV’s The Apprentice.

Business Lessons from Lord Sugar

Much has been written on this – including by me, in a series of blogs drawing lessons from episodes of The Apprentice over a number of years. So let’s keep it simple. Here are five important lessons for managers and business people to bear in mind.

Lesson 1: Character is Destiny

Whether you like or loathe the image he portrays in public, Sugar cleaves firmly to his own principles and business values. If I had to assess ‘the real Alan Sugar’ – and bear in mind, I have no privileged knowledge here – I would speculate that he is someone who has deep respect for people who can demonstrate their capabilities and expertise at the highest level, and has no time for people who have little ability. Anyone who tries to make up for their shortcomings through ingratiation or deception will incur his wrath.

I suspect trusting his closest allies and advisors profoundly has been important in building his success, but his blunt, no nonsense, and occasionally abrasive style has created detractors. His management style has been criticised, as has his attitude to women at work.

Lesson 2: Spot the Next Big Thing… then move quickly

Computers, word processors, TV satellite dishes, email, PDAs, satellite TV receivers… Sugar was in on the ground floor of all of these. At each stage, he used the knowledge and skills gained in earlier ventures to move quickly and seize market share. He also has a strong insight into customer desires and behaviours, which is critical in commercial decision-making. Not all his ventures have been hugely successful, but in business, it is the cumulative success that matters. Indeed, not all his customer predictions have been sound either: he famously predicted the demise of the iPod within a year. Whoops.

Lesson 3: Out-compete ruthlessly

Sugar’s primary competitive strategy is to out-compete on price. Take early stage technology that has started to stabilise, and find a way to manufacture and ship it at vastly reduced costs. The Amstrad computer was reportedly designed on an airline napkin, on a flight from Japan (where he’d seen early computers on sale) and Hong Kong, where he had business contacts that could help with manufacturing.

Lesson 4: Roll with the Punches

Sugar is a great example of business resilience. Not every venture was a success and he has had difficult times in his commercial life. Maybe a stable family life (40+ years of marriage) helped, but I suspect his personal resilience is also down to his character. Expect set backs, take them on the chin, learn from them, and come back fighting.

Lesson 5: Learn how to Negotiate well

I don’t know what Lord Sugar’s negotiating secrets would be – or even if they are anything more than consistent and ruthless application of sound basic principles. But it is certain that he is able to secure every last ounce out of a deal and is scathing of people who ‘leave money on the table’ in a negotiation.

For more on Negotiation, see:

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Four Step Negotiation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


We all have to negotiate; whether formally, arranging rotas, or informally, looking for a little extra help. In some cultures, it is more than a way of life, it is a ritual to be savoured. Everyone is familiar with its ploys and gambits, and is comfortable with the give and take, the spirited competition, and the feigned offence. Not negotiating is what gives real offence.

In other places, negotiation can feel alien: it feels more like an argument. Consequently, many managers feel uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating.

So, how can you negotiate well, and feel confident at the same time?

Negotiating is a learnable process. There are four basic steps, that you can practise and carry out, to get a result every time. It may not always be the result you hoped for at the outset: that’s not the goal of negotiating. There are, after all, two (or more) parties to please.

Negotiation is a process of searching for an agreement that satisfies all parties

So, let’s look at the process; it has four steps.

1. Preparation

The secret of success lies in going into the formal ‘let’s negotiate’ part fully prepared. This can give you an immediate edge but, realistically, will simply prevent you being at a disadvantage from the start. Its real importance is two-fold: to boost your confidence and to equip you to recognise and secure the best outcome available… or to know when to walk away. Perhaps the simplest useful advice is in the words of Kenny Rogers:

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

So, what to prepare?

  1. Know what you want, and what your option would be if you failed to reach agreement. Known as your BATNA or ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’, this tells you when to walk away. It forms your bottom line.
  2. You need to inventory all the variables in your negotiation: what you can trade, offer, concede, request, and tweak, in terms of money, goods, services, or relationships. This will give you your manoeuvring space.
  3. Find out about the other party and do your best to anticipate what they need, want and don’t want and, as a result, some likely scenarios. Play them out.
  4. Assemble a file of every relevant fact or figure so you have them to hand. Ideally, learn it all – the impact of that on your counter-party can be stunning. If not, at least be familiar with it all, so you can quickly find what you need.

2. Opening

Your first priority is to make a positive first impression. Dress right, enter confidently, and get your papers out to reveal an orderly file, smart notebook and classy pen. Show you are confident and mean business.

A few minutes of rapport-building banter recognises that negotiation is a human activity. It’s harder to be hard with someone you have rapport with, so soften up the other side. Next, establish any ground rules – above all, does the person in the room have the authority to seal the deal? If not, you will never want to make your best offer to them.

3. Bargaining

Once the give and take of the negotiation is underway, the secret is to listen hard, never respond immediately, and not to be defensive. Always move one step towards where you think agreement lies, either accepting a concession, making one, requesting one, or spelling out the next step. Anything else shows you to be focused on the wrong thing. The right thing is the big picture: progress towards an agreement that satisfies all parties.

Let any raising of emotional temperature, defensive behaviour or outrage come from the other side of the table. You will look wiser, more confident and more powerful. This is why we prepare.

4. Closing

Eventually, you will either reach a point of agreement where both of you are happy, or you will reach a point where one of you recognises that no such agreement is possible and offers to walk away – or storms out; but don’t ever let that be you.

This is where inexperienced negotiators stumble. They fear that saying they are happy and checking that the other party is too, will break the magic spell. The opposite is true: failing to declare this point will mean the magic will wear off. So go for a close. The simplest and safest approach is a trial close:

“I think we are at a point where we can both agree? Is that how you see it?”

If you get the right signals, express your pleasure and move straight into the formalities of finalising the detail: handshakes, drafting, signatures and logistics. Never, ever re-visit any of the terms. You have a deal and there is no way it can get better, so the only thing that will happen is that it gets worse. Stop.

Can it be that simple?

Yes and no. Yes, this simple process works and is the basis of all negotiation. No, because every negotiation will be different and there is one fundamental characteristic of all negotiations that militates against simplicity: they are a human endeavour. But as such, if well prepared, you are in the same position as the other party. You are a human; so are they.

Further Reading

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What is your negotiating personality?

Last week, we took a look at negotiation and I want to return briefly to it.  In The Negotiator’s Pocketbook, Patrick Forsyth offers a nice model of how you come across as a negotiator.

Neotiation Personality

Projection

The way you are perceived – how confident, assertive and credible you seem.  In Patrick’s mind, this is ‘good’ assertion – respectful and appropriate, rather than domineering and aggressive.

Empathy

Your ability to assume your counter-party’s perspective and see things from their point of view, understanding what they want and how they perceive the situation and your actions.

Patrick gives a wealth of tips about ‘behavioural ploys’ that negotiators can use, to increase your projection and empathy.  I want to pick out just one:

Flagging

Not: ‘oh boy, this negotiation has been going on for ages, now I’m flagging’. 

Instead: ‘I’d like to flag up the next step’.

Patrick recommends using questions and statements that demonstrate where you are in the negotiation and what you think needs to follow in the process.  Because negotiation is a process, and it needs to keep moving until it reaches a conclusion – of one sort or another.

What made me think, was this statement:

never flag a disagreement’

… which Patrick doesn’t explain.

Never Flag a Disagreement

This statement caught me by surprise.  I didn’t necessarily agree with it.  I had to think why it might be true.  And then I realised: Patrick is right.  So now, I can explain it.

Flag a disagreement and the process stops.  When the process stops, the negotiation ends.  If you disagree, then flag the next step you need to take to move back into agreement.  Nice, Patrick, thank you.

Maybe, that should be Rule 5.

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The Rules of Negotiation

There are no Rules in a knife fight

No rules in a knife fight - Ted Cassidy in Twentieth Century Fox's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
No rules in a knife fight – Ted Cassidy in Twentieth Century Fox’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

There may be eight rules of Fight Club, but as Harvey Logan told us in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

‘Rules?
In a knife fight?
No rules!’

.
I suppose the difference is that one is negotiation for fun (!) and the other is for real (within a fictional world).  But it raises the question:

Are there any rules in a real negotiation?

The Negotiator's PocketbookPatrick Forsyth thinks so.  Patrick is author of one of my favourite Pocketbooks, The Negotiator’s Pocketbook.

Early on in the Pocketbook, he sets out ‘Four Essential Rules’ of negotiation.
.

Rule 1: Aim High

This has to merit the status of a rule, doesn’t it.  After all, your best possible outcome, once the negotiation has started, is your opening position, so it had better be as good as you think you can possibly ask for without offending your counter-party and causing them to withdraw summarily.

Rule 2: Get the Other Person’s Shopping List

When I saw this rule, my heart sunk.  While in many negotiations, you will want to get your counter-party to reveal their opening position first (in case it is better for you than you had planned), this is not always the case.  That’s because the opener acts as an anchor and makes it very hard for you to come back with your own opening position that is in another realm altogether.

The counter-party is now stuck in one realm and you are being foolish.  If, however, you open first with your wild position, then it may indeed cause the other person to withdraw, but it will certainly change their whole perception of value.  It will re-frame the negotiation.

But Patrick is wise enough to frame his rule as being about preparation.  Do your research first, he is saying.  Now that’s a rule worth having.

Rule 3: Keep the Whole Package in Mind

How often we hear of negotiations failing over one inconsequential detail.  Inconsequential, that is, to an impartial observer.  But to the parties negotiating, who have become fixated upon it, this one point comes to betoken the whole matter.  That’s foolish.  I like this rule too.

Rule 4: Keep Searching for Variables

The concept of variables is central to the way Patrick describes negotiation and putting them front and centre is right. Anything that could be done, given, granted, requested, conceded, exchanged, varied – these are variables.  And the more you have, the greater your negotiating flexibility.  The greater your negotiating flexibility, the more likely you are to find agreement.  Keep searching for variables – and keep tweaking them.  Too right.

Rule 5: There is no rule 5

… or is there?  Patrick lists four.  What would your fifth be?  Do add your own ideas in the comments.

So here’s the deal

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at searching for a New Job and keeping the Same Job.  Whichever you do, you may find the opportunity to negotiate.  If you do, keep Patrick’s four rules in mind.

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Going round in circles: Problem Solving Simplicity

There are some business books I refer to again and again.  Often they are also (no coincidence) those that are recommended by many people I know as part of your essential business bookshelf.

Getting to YesFor general negotiating skills, I am yet to be persuaded that any book has overtaken ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  It is one of those books where ideas are densely packed and none are laboured.  So despite being a short book, it has more in it than many twice its size.

The lowest review on Amazon UK gives it 3 stars – saying there’s not much new in it.  A triumph for a book that is 30 years old and has therefore been imitated and borrowed from heavily over the years.  I am fairly sure it was Ury and Fisher who first introduced negotiators to the BATNA.

Not about Negotiation

However, I am not writing this Pocketblog about negotiation and you can learn more in Patrick Forsyth’s excellent Negotiator’s Pocketbook (one of my personal favourites).

Sitting among the many gems in Getting to Yes (at page 70 of my 1986 hardback edition) is the circle chart.  This is presented as a tool to help negotiators ‘invent options for mutual gain’.  I see it as one of the best generic problem solving tools – and also, by the way, as a pretty good model for the consulting process.

The Circle Chart

image

What a wonderfully simple model for problem solving this is.

  1. Problem
    We ask what is wrong and gather the facts
  2. Analysis
    We diagnose the problem, seeking to understand causation
  3. Approaches
    We generate multiple options to resolve the problem
  4. Action ideas
    We evaluate the options and develop plans

All things are connected…

‘It’s the circle of life, Simba’

The Circle Chart has always reminded me how simplicity and robustness come from a few great insights, and the model-maker’s skill is in presenting them in new and relevant ways.  In particular, this model is a close relative of another, designed for a very different purpose: Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT method for instructional design.

Although the sequence is slightly different, the four questions that McCarthy argued that we need to answer are all here:

  1. Problem – ‘what?’
  2. Analysis – ‘why?’
  3. Approaches – ‘how?’
  4. Action ideas – ‘what if?’

So here’s the deal

The circle chart may not be the most sophisticated problem solving model available, but it covers all of the basis for me.  A great resource for managers, project teams, consultants and trainers.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Reciprocity and Expectation

I got a phone call out of the blue yesterday.  I have noticed that this kind of call can either be a complete waste of time (’do you want to save money on your toner cartridges/wine/mortgage/pet insurance?’) or thought-provoking.  This one was most certainly the latter.

Tip of the day

You may have noticed on the main Management Pocketbooks website (you can get to it by clicking the logo at the top of the right hand column next to this blog) the Tip of the Day function.

SeeOurTipoftheDayTipoftheDay29Apr2011

If you click on it, you will get a different tip each day.  This caller had done just that, and got one of mine.

Keeping Promises

‘If I keep my promise, will you keep yours?
If I don’t believe you will, why should I bother?
Vroom’s model of motivation!

This tip came from the Management Models Pocketbook, where I describe Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.  This is the section in the free extract you can view on the Management Models Pocketbook page, by clicking on ‘view extract’.

The tip was about the way that we can fail to motivate others if we get a reputation for not delivering on promised rewards.  But the tip had resonated with my caller in another way.

Honesty and Reciprocation

In her job, Alison had been thinking about the importance of truth and honesty.  She had read the quote and thought about the reciprocation of honesty, which got us into an interesting discussion about the nature of truth.

Reciprocation appears to be a fundamental part of human nature.  It is the basis of a large part of our society:

  • Trade, commerce and negotiation
  • Moral philosophy (do unto others… – the so-called ‘golden rule’)
  • Community and the trading of favours
  • Criminal justice (punishment fitting the crime – an eye for an eye)
  • Diplomatic exchange and warfare

Of course pure reciprocity is not always seen as the ideal in all of these cases.  In negotiation, a win-win goes beyond pure exchange of fair value and in moral philosophy, alternative approaches have developed and extended the golden rule, starting with Kant’s categorical imperative.  In community, the concept of paying forward, rather than paying back emerged in the 1950s and hit its peak of popular awareness in the 1990s with the film ‘Pay it Forward’.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPcwQi-AnWI]

There is no need to analyse the failings of tit-for-tat reciprocity in the criminal justice and diplomatic arenas!

In the world of influence, reciprocity is king

As Richard Storey points out in the Influencing Pocketbook, appeal to self interest is a powerful influencer.  But what is equally powerful is to appeal to our innate instinct to reciprocate a gift or a concession.  It is as if, your self interest served, you feel a need to express your gratitude with a reciprocal action.

This offers me a powerful way to influence your thinking or your behaviour.  If I meet your need or give you something you want, then you will feel an urge to give me something in return.  If I give you an honest answer, then you are more likely to be honest with me.

Game theory

But here is where the problem lies.  If I deal honestly with you, can I expect you to deal honestly with me?  If I do trust you and you reciprocate, we can get the best possible collective results, but if you cheat on  me, you optimise your gain, while I lose out.  So what should I do?

This is the domain of ‘game theory’ – the mathematical study of sequences of plays within a set of rules, where the players have some choice.  It turns out that tit-for-tat is a pretty good strategy…

… but not the best.  Constant cheating and constant trusting are both poor strategies, but one strategy stands out.

I am wondering whether I should share this.  What are the ethics of sharing a strategy that must mean some cheating, some trusting and some tit-for-tat behaviour?  Hmmm, that is something to think about.

So here’s the deal

The optimum strategy  in part depends on the strategy of your counter-party – your ‘opponent’ in the game.  But one of the most successful strategies seems to be ‘modified tit-for-tat’.  This means you start by reciprocating, to build trust, but every now and then, take advantage of the situation by cheating.  Then, revert to tit-for-tat behaviour to rebuild trust… and so on.

Does that sound familiar?  I have encountered it a number of times and it hurts.  For those of us who believe we act fairly and with integrity, encountering it in someone we trust is unpleasant.  It leaves us with a difficult choice: one I faced recently.

Should I reciprocate the cheating behaviour?  That was my instinct.  But maybe pure reciprocity is not the ideal strategy.  I relented and resorted to a tactic designed to rebuild trust.  Does this make me a gullible mark, ready to be fleeced the next time?  I don’t think so, because there is always one strategy I have not yet rolled out: not cheating, not trusting, not tit-for-tat.

You can always stop playing the game.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Negotiator’s Pocketbook

The Influencing Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

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If it sounds too good to be true …

The old saying goes: ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’.  But there is another possibility: ‘if it sounds to good to be true, then you haven’t done your homework’.

Catching out the best negotiators

Sometimes in negotiations, you will be caught off guard by an unanticipated comment, statement or offer.  There is very little that is more disconcerting than an offer that is better than you were expecting.  This is because even the best negotiators rarely prepare for this scenario.

The cautious response is to ask yourself: ‘where’s the catch?’ and proceed delicately.  But there may be no catch; the offer may be genuine.  So whatever you do, don’t risk giving offence by challenging the offer.  Unfortunately, when we get caught out, we often respond in an unguarded manner.

What else could be going on?

If there is no catch, then there are two further possibilities:

  1. the offer is a fair one
  2. they know something you don’t and the value is higher than you thought

What should you do?

Obviously, the lesson from this example is to prepare for even this scenario.  As Patrick Forsyth says in The Negotiator’s Pocketbook, ‘successful negotiators do their homework’.

But if you are unprepared, then you certainly don’t want to just jump on the offer.  So, do what you would do with any offer: make a counter offer, by asking for a little more.  What you do not want to do is quickly accept the offer and leave the other person wondering if they have over bid.  If they do that, it can lead to buyer’s remorse – a sense of disappointment with the deal that they have struck, which can lead to them later reneging on the deal or not doing further business with you.  Worse still, you don’t want to accept a great offer that you could have improved still further.

If you sense the offer is a fair one – just a little better than you had anticipated, then your counter offer can be a little higher.  If, on the other hand, you think they know something more about the value than you do, either go considerably higher or, if you can, take a time out to do some more research.

So here’s the deal

There is no substitute for being prepared before you go into a negotiation: both in command of the facts, and mentally prepared to deal with the unexpected.

What are your tips for negotiating, from your own experiences.  Let us and our readers know, by contributing your own comment.

The Negotiator’s Pocketbook

In The Negotiator’s Pocketbook, Patrick Forsyth sets out a seven step process for your negotiation preparation.  This Pocketbook really is full of fabulous insights and tips.

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Okay, so we’ve not been talking about resistance but in the forthcoming Handling Resistance Pocketbook (due in the autumn), you’ll learn a great process, called ‘SCOPE the resistance’ to deal with the kind of surprise this blog talks about.

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Read the Handling Resistance Blog at www.handlingresistance.com

Other Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The Influencing Pocketbook

The NLP Pocketbook

The Salesperson’s Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

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