Negotiating: “What if They Won’t Play?”

This past week I was once again reminded of how crucial negotiation skills are to running a business. Whether you are talking to clients, vendors or employees, you will often find yourself in a position where you must negotiate over something. Whether it is over a multi-million vendor contract, the price of an hour’s consulting or the rent for your new location, having the skills to come to a conclusion that is advantageous for all is fundamental to an entrepreneur, business owner or executive.

This past week, I listened to the story of a person preparing for a difficult negotiation and was reminded of the book, Getting to Yes*.  In particular, I was reminded of a chapter titled, “What if They Won’t Play?” in which the authors take up the situation of negotiating with someone that is staking out an unequivocal position, and does not want to budge. Here is what the author’s suggest.

In a situation where the other negotiating party has taken a hard line, Fisher and Ury suggest three possible approaches: first, attempt to center on what you can do, then focus on what they can do, and finally, focus on what a third party can do.

The first approach is referred to by the authors as the Principled Approach. Central to this approach is to separate the people from the problem, In particular, take care not to attack their position, nor to become defensive if they attack yours. Rather, focus on each party’s interests, and if necessary invent options that can lead to mutual gain. The last component of this approach is to use objective criteria to judge the value of any proposal.

The second approach, which Fisher and Ury dub the “Jujitsu” approach, involves using leverage rather than brute force. As with the martial arts, the key is not to defend yourself by trying to blunt the attack. Rather, deflect the attack away from you by focusing the attack on the problem. In doing so, you refuse to respond or react to criticism or anger, thereby defusing the attack.

When you are stuck in “positional bargaining” that is each side has a position and does not want to move, the authors suggest using a third party to work through the impasse. A mediator may be able to separate the people form the problem, and help to invent a solution to the impasse that neither side can see clearly.

Although it was published in 1977, I feel that Getting to Yes remains one of the best books on negotiation on the market. I encourage you to give it a read, and if you have read it before, a second time through wouldn’t hurt!


* Getting to Yes. Fisher and Ury. Penguin Books,New York,NY. 1983.

5 thoughts on “Negotiating: “What if They Won’t Play?”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    An interesting article, as always.

    I’ve been involved in negotiations with both large corporates and public bodies – in each case where I’ve been told that ‘there is no scope for negotiation’ i.e. take it or leave it. However, in each case I have found that by focusing upon the facts and explaining why I need something to be changed – ie showing that I wasn’t just ‘points scoring’ – I have got most (if not all) of what I wanted.

    On the whole, people want to be seen to be doing business for the mutual benefit of both parties. Accordingly, if you are reasonable and up-front, then even if they begin from a position of much greater bargaining strength, they tend to reciprocate.

    Margaret

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation Kevin. Negotiation is truly an art form. There are certainly many different tactics one can use. I still feel that everyone needs to negotiate on a human level. Getting to know the person or people you are doing business with will only strengthen your position when it comes down to what’s on your wish list at the bargaining table.

    E

  3. Kevin
    your input at Joes was spot on. I picked up this book and it is an excellent read. I certainly think it will help with my current negotiation as well as future negotiations.
    Mike

  4. […] Negotiating: “What if They Won’t Play?” (via The COO's Bulldog) This past week I was once again reminded of how crucial negotiation skills are to running a business. Whether you are talking to clients, vendors or employees, you will often find yourself in a position where you must negotiate over something. Whether it is over a multi-million vendor contract, the price of an hour’s consulting or the rent for your new location, having the skills to come to a conclusion that is advantageous for all is fundamental … Read More […]

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