What the Best Negotiators Do

So, there’s the dad who comes home from work and is greeted by two whiny kids. “Daddy, I need this orange for my school project and Danny won’t let me have it!” Dad looks at Danny “But I need this orange for my science homework” he screams. Dad knows exactly what to do. He grabs the orange and walks to the kitchen, takes a big knife and splits the orange, handing half to Danny and half to Eddie. They both scream louder than ever. Without knowing it, Dad has insured failure for both his kids. Why? Because Eddie needs the juice of one entire orange. And Danny needs the peel of one entire orange. Now neither can be successful because of Dad’s failure as a negotiator.

Most people have heard about Solomon and how he wisely settled the dispute between two women, both claiming to be the mother of a certain child. His order to ‘split the baby’ smoked out the real mom. But we’ve convoluted the ‘split the baby’ idea. Meeting halfway isn’t always the answer.

The best negotiators stop and take time to prepare. They ask questions. They dig deep to discover what the needs and wants are. What we want and what we need are often different things, so good negotiators ask themselves and those on their side of a transaction “What is it we have to have?” These are needs. Essentials . . . things we can’t do without. Once we’ve listed our ‘have-to-have’s,’ we list our wants . . . our ‘nice-to-have’s.’ These are things we’ll work hard to get (or keep) but if we have to, in the give and take of negotiating, we’ll give up some (or all) of them up.

Once we’re at the table with the other side of the negotiation, great negotiators start all over again. They ask questions to learn and discern the other side’s needs and wants. Direct, indirect, personal, impersonal . . . all kinds of questions to determine the other side’s ‘have-to-have’s’ as well as their ‘nice-to-have’s.’ There’s a great temptation to start offering up ideas, swaps and compromises while you’re still gathering information. Don’t. Keep gathering data and resist the temptation to jump to proposing solutions.

When you’ve got a good feel for what both sides want and need, take a timeout. Sit down and think it through. The best negotiators look for ‘win-win’ strategies . . . things that can be swapped or compromised so each side ends up with what it needs and with as many of its wants as possible. Good negotiators create a joint problem-solving environment, not an adversarial one. ‘Scorched-earth’ negotiators are a dying breed in an interconnected world where everyone writes reviews and shares their experiences and opinions with everyone else via social media.

And lest you think this post is just for business, try this with your kids. Next time there’s a conflict, ask questions and sort out what each side wants and needs before ruling on the case. Let them suggest compromises and trades to come to their own peace.

Scripture: Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14:31-32)

Mentor Tip: Your first chance to model your negotiation skills will be at Kickoff Meeting when you’ll negotiate with a bunch of selfish guys to agree on a meeting calendar for the year. Throughout your mentoring season, look for opportunities to listen to your guys and help settle contention using these principles.

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