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How to Break Down Barriers to Effective Negotiations

Successful negotiators know the potential trouble spots, and how to deal with them.

By Bisk
How to Break Down Barriers to Effective Negotiations

When negotiating, it is important to be cognizant of the issues and/or barriers that may inhibit a successful outcome. Some issues, such as being prepared and well-rested, are no-brainers. It should come as no surprise that it’s never a good idea to negotiate when you’re not at your optimum level.

But, as explained by Joe Holt, associate professional specialist in the Management Department of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, there are many other issues that can arise during, and possibly compromise, an effective negotiation.  

Cognitive ability – The ability to absorb and comprehend complex issues, analyze a significant amount of data and solve problems. According to Holt, individuals with higher cognitive ability often are more successful in situations that involve multiple issues and that require the generation of multiple options to reach a successful resolution.

Emotional intelligence – The ability to recognize, understand, process and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of another party. Individuals with higher emotional intelligence often are more adapt at gathering information as it relates to the specific desires of the other party, are better at managing and developing relationships with another party and are capable of assessing risks and determining how far and how aggressively you can push the other side during a negotiation. Emotional intelligence also allows an individual to control her or his own emotions during a negotiation so as not to undermine a possible resolution.

Perspective taking – The ability to assume another party’s perspective, even if you do not agree with it. Individuals who can understand the position of another party are more likely to reach conclusions that satisfy the other party. The inability to do this may cause the other party to feel disrespected, meaning they may become less cooperative.

Collaboration – This motivational issue is important for an integrated negotiation to succeed. Essentially, both sides in any negotiation must be willing to work together to reach a shared, satisfactory goal. If one or both parties simply pursue their own interest, regardless of what the other party is seeking, a successful resolution is much less likely.

Trust – Another critical motivational issue is trust. Mistrust can effectively undermine any negotiation and cause one or both parties to become defensive and less forthright. Transparency and openness can generate trust, but it must come from both sides.

Anger and Compassion – Individuals who exhibit high anger and low compassion can impede a negotiation by diminishing collaboration. Having compassion, or empathy, can allow an individual to understand and assume the other party’s perspective. But, as Holt warns, having too much empathy can limit one’s willingness to counter proposals or cause one to avoid conflict altogether, resulting in a lopsided resolution that doesn’t satisfy both interests.

Once you understand the issues to be aware of during a negotiation, then you can begin moving toward a mutually beneficial resolution.

One pitfall to avoid, according to Holt, is positional bargaining, which is essentially a back and forth haggling over specifics that can ultimately doom the situation by eliminating compromise and collaboration.

A principled negotiation is often the most successful approach. There are four tenets to a principled negotiation: Separate the people from the problem, focus on interests instead of positions, generate options for mutual gain and, finally, use objective criteria.

Separating people from the problem
Negotiators have two interests, the substance of the issue being negotiated and the ongoing relationship between parties. Holt advises that you should always be mindful of the human element at play, which can help or hinder the process. Good relationships can further the process whereas a fractured relationship can significantly inhibit effective communication and the shared exploration of a mutually agreeable resolution. It is never advisable to allow relationships to become intertwined with the process. Each needs to be dealt with independent of the other.

Focus on interests, not positions
In any negotiation, there are positions and interests. A position may be a specific sticking point that one side or the other says it wants, whereas an interest can represent an actual need as it relates to what’s being negotiated. It’s important not to get too singularly focused on one position, thereby creating an obstruction to reaching an agreeable resolution. Negotiators should be able to look past positions to find an acceptable point where the underlying interest is met. Holt recommends staying firm on interests but flexible toward options for satisfying that interest.

Options for mutual gain
In order to find mutual gains, creativity sometimes is the most valuable tool. According to Holt, successful negotiators use imagination to reach an agreeable resolution instead of a compromise that doesn’t fully satisfy either party. One barrier to avoid is initial and immediate criticism when options are being discussed. This stifles communication and can cause one or both sides to miss the best option. Much like focusing on interests and not positions, Holt recommends that negotiators avoid rejecting an option that could be mutually agreeable simply because the other side proposed it.

Using objective criteria
Talks still can reach an impasse even when both sides successfully navigate the barriers that can limit effective negotiations. Sometimes both sides simply disagree on a fair resolution, which can create a situation where both sides stubbornly stick to their positions and refuse to move forward. This is when objective criteria is paramount. As explained by Holt, objective criteria are facts that exist independent of both parties that are relevant to what should or should not be agreed upon in the negotiation. These are facts that highlight the fairness of what is being proposed. Successful negotiators are able to acknowledge objective criteria presented by the other side without resorting to threats or yielding to pressure. In these situations, creating a dialogue, where the other party explains their reasoning as to why their position should be accepted, may help the sides reach an agreeable resolution. 

By remaining aware of the barriers that can inhibit successful negotiations, and taking a principled approach to reaching a mutually agreeable conclusion, both parties can find common interest, identify mutual gain and avoid conflict or division that creates an unresolvable impasse or prevents either side from being fully satisfied.


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Category: Negotiations