Negotiating with a tough boss, fed-up spouse, stonewalling friend, or indifferent store clerk is tough. We hope for the best, brace for the worst, and suit up for battle -- encasing our emotions in armor (Human frailty? None here!) and amassing facts and figures to shock and awe our adversary into agreeing with our clearly superior point of view.
If we don't get our way, we wonder where our brilliant conflict-resolution strategy went awry. And if we succeed, it's a bittersweet win that leaves us with a gut feeling that the price of victory cost us more than whatever it was we were negotiating in the first place.
Winning isn't everything
There is a middle ground -- one that doesn't leave your relationships in tatters -- and it looks like this: You get your way, I get mine, and everyone hugs, high-fives, feeling good about what just transpired.
But you don't get a "win-win" result the way most people approach the negotiation process. "People walk into negotiations assuming it's about facts and figures and even the way they prepare -- that emotions are an obstacle to clear," says psychologist and negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro. So we check our emotional baggage at the door and angle for a superior position by assuming a robotic, detached, unemotional facade.
Approaching conflict from an adversarial perspective misses the whole point of negotiation. The real goal of negotiation, says Shapiro, is not to win, but to come to a resolution that meets everyone's needs.
Yes, we can still be friends
In their five years of research for Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate, Shapiro and co-author Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, found that the most important tool for coming to resolution is not facts and figures: It's feelings.
The best negotiators understand and focus on the emotional dimensions of the interaction, specifically positive emotions. "If you stimulate emotions -- the right emotions -- it makes it much easier for both of you to work together," Shapiro says.
This is particularly important if you're trying to come to consensus with someone you're going to see again. (That's why the "my way or the highway" approach tends to yield predictably unsatisfactory results -- typically an invitation to spend a few nights sleeping on the couch or a box for any personal belongings in your cubicle and an escort to the parking garage.)
The authors found that five core concerns stimulate emotions during most negotiations. Out of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of emotional hot buttons that come up when people interact, just five matter the most: appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and role.
"I have worked with hostage negotiators ... they have them. I have worked with political leaders and heads of countries... they have them. My wife and I have them. Everybody has these same five core concerns," Shapiro says. "Before I negotiate with someone, I want to think through, 'How can I build affiliation with them? How can I build a sense of connection -- honest connection -- with them? What can I say or do to acknowledge their autonomy? How do I appreciate them? How can I respect their status so that they feel treated as someone of high standing?' Those are the kinds of things to think through in advance."
Prepare for your next negotiation
The next time you need to navigate a tough personal or professional situation, use this checklist to address what matters most to everyone in the room:
- Show appreciation: Appreciation in the context of negotiation doesn't mean "approval" or "gratitude" -- it's about understanding, respecting, and acknowledging the other person's point of view. Everyone wants recognition that their thoughts, feelings, or actions have merit. Listen and illustrate that you understand the other side's point of view, and provide the information they need to have to appreciate your point of view, too. ("I may not agree with everything you say, but I do see merit in your opinions.")
- Build affiliation: A collegial relationship fosters a sense of connection. Think "partner," not "rival." Focus on areas of compatibility and solicit information that will reveal common interests. ("I understand clearly my interests, but I doubt I understand your interests as well as I should. Let's review both of our most important issues.")
- Grant autonomy: Decision-making freedom makes others feel like they have some control. Explore commitments that respect others' ability to decide important matters. ("What amount of money do you think each of us should be allowed to spend without consulting one another?") We all want to feel the freedom to do what we want, without someone else telling us what to do.
- Acknowledge status: Getting (and giving) respect for one's position adds important context to the relationship. Give full recognition of others' standing without demeaning your own. ("This is an exciting collaboration given your expertise in X and my expertise in Y.")
- Address roles: A fulfilling and well-defined function makes people feel more engaged. Acknowledge the person's reason for being part of the interaction and help define his or her role. ("I appreciate you looking for solutions to this problem, but right now I think I really need you as a listener.")
More advice on negotiating sticky situations:
- Discuss money with your honey without triggering World War III.
- How to negotiate a better severance package.
- Save $157.86 shopping just by asking the right way.
Fool.com writer Dayana Yochim hates conflict but is good at building affiliation, showing appreciation, granting autonomy, and acknowledging status and role. In other words, she's considering a fall-back career as a hostage negotiator. The Fool has a disclosure policy.