Negotiation Is Not About Winning

Since we’re on a streak with posts on “negotiation,” I thought it essential to point out a lesson I learned in one of the titular books on the subject, “Getting To Yes,” written in the 80’s by two Harvard professors. This is the most powerful lesson I took away from their wisdom: If you want to succeed at negotiation, you’ve got to be able to state your opponent’s position better than your opponent. Not only does this strategy give us a leg up rhetorically, it actually gets to the heart of what negotiation is all about: finding common ground. Finding something you can both agree on. Using this strategy, you can actually understand where your ‘opponent’ is coming from, and move forward with empathy — rather than simply a dogged determination to ‘win.’

All of us feel the same way: “That the other person just can’t see it the way I see it. If they only knew, they wouldn’t argue like this.” Incumbent upon us is the responsibility to do that research for the opponent, to actually reach that level of understanding of their position, not in order to out-argue them — but in order to more deeply understand and empathize with them. If you go into that level of learning with the mindset of undermining their perspective, you’re missing the point entirely.

Nelson Mandela said, “If you speak to a person in a language they understand, you speak to their head. But if you speak to a person in their language, you speak to their heart.” If you want to find common ground in negotiation, you have to speak to their heart. You have to actually see things the way they see them. The risk is, you may find areas in their position that make sense, that you believe, and areas — dare I say it — where they’re right. Imagine for a moment being able to articulate their position as well as, if not better, than them, and in a moment of uncontrollable excitement they blurt out “Yes!!! You get it!  Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying!”

What if? I’ll tell you what. They can no longer say “you’re not listening” or “you don’t understand.”

The problem with most of us is we never want to go there; we want to articulate the difference without going the distance to see where we connect. That’s part of the reason I believe our nation is so divided.  Let’s face it: Nobody’s absolutely right; nobody’s without fault. 

If you want to reach common ground — if you want to ‘win’ at negotiation — you’ve got to win together. You’ve got to understand and connect with their perspective, not just try and convince them of yours.