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The Three R’s of Negotiation

We teach the three R’s: Results, Relationship and Rules. Negotiators are always balancing whether the Result or the Relationship is more important at each particular stage.

Principled negotiation as an ethos informs our approach to training and developing people who might only negotiate or whose whole job is negotiation. We know all the tricks and tactics and show people how to recognise them in action and how to counter them if they are being used in a destructive or malevolent way. We differentiate negotiating from simple positional bargaining where you say one price they say another and the answer’s halfway between. That’s an example of a negotiating ritual that really only occurs in the simple, one-dimensional versions of negotiation. Bargaining on price is straightforward. Real negotiation is more complex because there are so many more aspects and dimensions to consider.

Positional bargaining or arguing on price is just about the result. You may never have to work together again or even meet each other again, so if one party feels aggrieved or bullied into accepting a lower price it doesn’t really matter – there’s no relationship that will be affected.

The rules are the rules – except they’re not universal and can vary between cultures, so what seems unfair rule-breaking in one culture may be the way normal business happens in another. Even when the rules are understood and accepted by both sides, there might be a decision on where the rules could be bent or even broken to suit the situation. Professional negotiators rarely work with a “we never…” mindset when approaching a negotiation. A rule may have been appropriate in a particular situation, but this situation could mean it’s inappropriate or damaging to the outcome.

We’re not naïve enough to go with the win-win idea, nor to believe that the objective of negotiation is to reach an agreement. In reality, there will be winners and losers in some situations – trying to find a way where everybody walks away with something (even if it’s only their pride) is part of the job, but that does not mean finding a way to make everyone a winner.

Ury and Fisher in their seminal work “Getting to Yes”, talked about wise outcomes rather than agreements as the objective of negotiation…And a wise outcome could be the recognition that you are unable to work together, live together or agree on anything and parting company is the best result. Paradoxically this may be better for the relationship than sticking with it and trying to make it work.

Our recommendation to negotiators is to learn the rules of the road but to remember it is a competitive sport. Skilled and consistently successful drivers value their own and others’ safety and thus do not engage in reckless behaviour – and neither should negotiators. These then are our guidelines for safely negotiating the course.

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How Can I Be a Better Negotiator?

  1. Recognise that negotiation is like motor racing. It’s a serious professional game that arouses passions, stokes competitive natures and kindles fighting spirits – but a game all the same. There are rules, tricks and tactics, nasty drivers, cheats, winners and losers – but it’s not life itself – so don’t take it personally.
  2. Remember that the best racing drivers and the best negotiators balance results with rules and relationships. Winning by cheating or hurting someone is a hollow victory and isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later your reputation as a dirty player finds you out. You can’t win if you’re not in the race.
  3. Learn the following safe habits of successful negotiators and make these your driving principles. Think like a professional driver in a race to centre your thinking and bring you back to a logical, principled and professional way of operating. Follow the rules and be a winner but get there safely.
  4. Going too fast means you’re out of control and then you’re being driven not being the driver. Giving yourself time to think makes you consider options and alternatives and choose wisely. Slow things down by pausing and thinking just for one second before you say or do the next thing.
  5. Keep a safe distance. Acting rashly or impulsively means you’re getting too close to the action and your impulses could cause you to respond or react in a way you regret. Maintain a level of detachment and take in the wider picture not just what’s right in front of you.
  6. Have a map. Know where your destination is, where you are right now and what the alternative routes are if the current one is blocked or congested. Be ready to change your journey plans if the unexpected arises. Changing your destination not just your route is a completely different journey.
  7. Watch the road. Identify potential hazards before you get to them and adjust your speed accordingly. Slow down or stop if you’re not sure whether it’s safe to proceed. Help them too by pointing out potential hazards and bumps along the way. Reaching a wise outcome means both arrive safely.
  8. Read the signs. Listen and look for signs of agreement and areas where they are not sure or seem to be hitting the brakes. Notice not just what they say but also how they look when they say it. Does what they say match with how they look to you?
  9. Ignore pressure to go faster or finish the race. The other driver’s speed is not your speed. Don’t let them dictate how you want to proceed. Race rules, ethics and principles are there to be followed but pressure is just a way to get you to hurry and make mistakes.
  10. Take regular breaks and pit stops. Tiredness kills on the road and exhaustion creates mistakes, frayed tempers and poor decisions in negotiation. Build in planned breaks and take them. This is a time to rethink, refresh, regroup and check your race plan before you go back out on the track.