Saturday, June 17, 2006

interfacing with people

* for the kathleen reardon junkies out there - there's another interview from last week (mp3). it's about organizational politics again, which isnt particularly interesting to me at the moment - but if you are involved in *any* organizations, her stuff ought be of interest. (ftr - she basically defines 'politics' as 'interfacing with people'). as i've mentioned before, kathleen was my negotiations/persuasion lecturer at USC - negotiation (in all its various forms) is really a building block of interpersonal communications, and therefore also a building block of organizational politics.

'negotiation' is often perceived to be a bit of a dirty term - but much of what she teaches is, for example, about being prepared for contingencies in conversations, and knowing how to listen, and how to recognize in advance, and therefore prevent, situations spiralling out of control and so on.

another key element in her teaching is that negotiation should not be a zero sum game. it's not a particularly unique insight - but it can be really powerful - not least because when you get beyond the zero-sum mindset, you can actually create value for both parties - often by introducing new elements to the discussion. As a simplistic example - if you are trying to get a pay raise of X, and your boss can only give you Y, then you might ask for extra holidays instead, or for boss to pay for childcare, or any number of things. This sort of thing is particularly useful if, say, you work in an organisation and your boss says 'i'd like to pay you more, you deserve it - but the rules say that you can only get paid Y' - in which case you might pick up on his/her words and say 'i'm glad that you recognise that i'm worth more, and i recognise your constraints - i've looked at the rules, and i know that you are allowed to pay for my (xyz) instead - how bout we do that?' (a KEY to negotiation is being really prepared)

the other value in recognizing that negotiations arent zero sum is that you look for opportunities to create value together which means that you have to understand what the other person (or business or whatever) values. the best value-creating opportunities are where one party values something really highly, and the other party doesnt really value it very much. pretty obvious stuff - but it can take the focus off the headline 'price' and open up other avenues to compensate. for example if you were negotating the purchase of a house, and you knew that the seller was building a house which wouldnt be ready to move into for 6 months and they were going to have to move into a short-term rental (including the moving costs and such), and if you werent in a hurry to move in, then you can use that flexibility to negotiate around the headline issue of the price of the house, or you buy the house and rent it back to the seller and share the savings from moving all the furniture twice (or whatever). obviously, the more complex the negotiation (for example selling a business), the more opportunity there is for this type of net-gain negotiation clauses.

i mentioned earlier that a key to negotiations is about being prepared - which includes a bunch of things like understanding what the other party wants, and why they want it, understanding what you want, and why - and it also includes preparing for contingencies. for example, literally writing stuff down on paper about a bunch of things the other person might say, and preparing different ways to counter them. in an example above i mentioned the boss who said 'i'd like to pay you more but i cant' - that can be kinda difficult to argue against - but if you are prepared, you can counter with the 'more holidays' option, or you can explain that his/her statement isnt entirely correct because of a precedent with another person or whatever.

while i'm ranting - it's really important to understand the motivations of all parties. i was recently called in to a negotiation where one party (party A) wanted to include a particular penalty clause in a broader contract with a fine of $5000 per week if particular government permits weren't achieved by a certain deadline date (both parties were private). The party that wanted the clause wanted to include it so that party B wouldn't drag its heels in hounding the govt to get the permits. Party B didn't want to be responsible for the vagaries of the governmental approval process - which it considered might be difficult to control (both parties desperately wanted the permit to happen as soon as possible). The simple solution? Keep operational responsibility for getting the permit with party A (even though the responsibility for the permit would normally have gone to party B once the transaction had been consummated.)

it's a silly example of course when i lay it out like that - but many other examples of negotiations are the same. kathleen drummed one mantra into my head "check your assumptions" - in this case, the 'assumption' on both sides was that once the deal had gone through, then 'of course Party B was responsible for getting the permit belonged to Party B'.

Again, while i'm still ranting - another thing that kathleen drummed into me is that 'everything is negotiation' in terms of timing, environment, conversation, context etc - and that includes things that aren't officially 'the negotiation'. I had another situation recently where emotions were running high - and it appeared that the best thing was to do was to delay the conversation for a few days. I wasn't in a state where i thought that a rational, dispassionate conversation was possible - and there wasnt an immediate need for the discussion - so that sort of thing - a delay - is also sometimes something that can be considered 'negotiation.'

enough ranting.

1 comment:

rimone said...

i think you should rant more often. but thank you for the mp3.