Negotiation 5: Negotiating with integrity
Negotiating with integrity
This article is about the way you behave during the negotiation process and the impact which that behaviour can have.
When you become involved in a negotiation, it is desirable that you treat your opposite number with respect and that you do not compromise your personal integrity. In essence, this means that you should not:
- be aggressive;
- be dismissive of the other party;
- use sarcasm; or,
- use threatening or intimidating behaviour.
Of course the fact that you choose to eschew such behaviour is no guarantee that your opposite number will. Consequently as well as considering the pitfalls of such behaviour, we will also look at methods of dealing with it should you be on the receiving end.
Tell the truth
Even if not the whole truth. Whilst it might be prudent to offer information only as and when it is relevant or necessary, you should not tell outright lies to your counterpart.
Remember that as well as not lying, you should be seen to be not lying. Bear in mind the image you are presenting to the other person. Try to see yourself as they see you - would you believe what you were being told? Body language tells us a great deal about other people. Often we take in the information subconsciously and we can make snap judgements based upon what other people’s body language tells us. Remember that for each of us, perception is reality. If I believe that you are lying to me, all the truth in the world won’t prevent me from feeling uneasy when doing business with you or from instinctively doubting your word.
The other side of the coin, of course, is whether your counterpart is (or whether you believe he is) lying to you. Should you find yourself in this situation, do bear in mind that you could be mistaken. It is a good idea to look for a number of indicators all pointing in the same direction and not just to base your opinion on one isolated example. Someone who appears fidgety and anxious might indeed be pulling the wool over your eyes; there again, they might be dying for a cup of tea or a cigarette!
If you wish to confirm or disprove your suspicions, question on points you either know or can quickly and easily verify as a ‘test’ first of all. If you still don’t trust him, move on to more detailed matters.
If you find you were mistaken, you can simply move the negotiation forward. If you find you were right, you must begin to clarify everything point by point - and be sure to confirm it all in writing. Whilst it may be sufficient on the face of it to simply shake hands on a deal - a gentleman’s agreement - it is good practice to get everything in writing; after all, someone who thinks it is acceptable to lie to your face is certainly not a gentleman.
Dealing with aggressors
When faced with aggression, the natural reaction is either to give as good as you get - fight - or to get out of there as quickly as possible - flight. Unfortunately, neither reaction is acceptable or even possible, on some occasions, in a business situation. Consequently we must have a strategy for understanding and dealing with aggressors.
Aggressive people are dealing from an emotional standpoint; the trick is not to meet emotion with emotion as this simply adds fuel to the flames, but to use logic and reason instead. Avoid ‘absolute’ statements as the result will be deadlock and possible lose/lose. Be prepared to justify your proposals and clarify objectives; at the same time be prepared to make concessions that cost you little but add value for the other party. If aggressors feel they are making headway and getting at least some of what they want, then their aggression is likely to be tempered. Remember that perception is reality, so even if you are calling the shots and making allowances, they will still feel good about what they believe they have gained.
At all times be alert for opportunities to move the negotiation forward and invite the aggressor to help you, perhaps by asking someone to join the discussion or by moving on to another item on the agenda on which agreement might more easily be reached. If he concedes to this, then you have struck a bargain and psychologically this should help towards striking more bargains.
Don’t be beaten into a submissive stance; if all else fails, you can walk away. By this, we don’t necessarily mean back off and call it a day, that really is a last resort. You could suggest that you negotiate with someone else in the organisation, or that you leave things for a couple of days and then fix up another meeting. An aggressor who realises that you can’t be bullied may well be encouraged to behave more reasonably; after all, if his company is serious about doing business with you, can he afford to fail?
You must be very careful not to hurt people’s feelings during negotiation. Such behaviours as not listening, talking over people, denying them even the smallest courtesies and so on can do enormous damage to a business relationship. By behaving in this manner you are attacking the other person’s self esteem. They will not wish to repeat the experience.
Remember that people are often quite sensitive, especially where their perception of their own skills and abilities as a businessperson is concerned. Consequently, if you disclose, following a negotiation, that if your counterpart had only tried a little harder you would have offered a bigger discount, don’t be surprised if he avoids doing business with you again.
If you are on the receiving end of someone else’s disrespect, try first and foremost not to take it personally. This is much easier said than done, but remember that your counterpart is being competitive and quite likely only playing the game as s/he sees it and feels it should be played.
The trick is not to rise to the bait. As far as possible, simply ignore the goading. If you are constantly being talked over, say, ‘If I might finish my point…’ and carry on. Be patient and be polite; very often by behaving properly yourself, you prompt similar behaviour in others.
If things reach an extreme point, you could challenge your counterpart by pointing out that s/he is not behaving fairly and asking if there is a reason for such behaviour. Keep your voice tone even and do not display aggression. Very often this is all that is needed to remedy the situation. Bullies do not like to be challenged and such behaviour is a form of bullying.
Sarcasm can be funny in the right circumstances and very tempting to use in many more. It should be strenuously resisted in negotiating situations, however, as it is a form of disrespect.
People who use sarcasm are perceived as being aggressive. Consequently those on the receiving end will be prompted to fight or flight. Either way, the negotiation is unlikely to be successful and you may find yourself in the middle of an increasingly unpleasant encounter as each successive sarcastic comment becomes more barbed and personal.
Beware also the more subtle forms of sarcasm; constantly asking ‘Why?’ questions can appear to be sarcastic - ‘Why did you think that would be a good idea?’ or ‘Why would we want to pay that price?’ - and it also undermines and belittles people. If someone is questioned on every point and made to feel stupid to boot, then the chances of developing a positive, long-lived and mutually beneficial business relationship are, to say the least, slim.
The same rules apply when dealing with sarcasm as with disrespect. Simply refuse to rise to the bait. If you believe a question, even if asked sarcastically, is worth answering, then go ahead and do so. Watch your voice tone and choice of language, however; do not join in the game of one-upmanship. If you believe a question is simply an excuse to have a go or is a red herring, you can choose to ignore it. Either respond with a question of your own or make a relevant point you wished to make anyway. Politicians do this all the time and with a little practice you could find this to be a useful tool.
Even in competitive negotiation the rule is that you should avoid attacking or threatening your counterpart except as an absolute last resort.
Threats to use power may work in the short term, but you send potentially dangerous messages when you threaten. The first is that your negotiating position is one which does not have an adequate alternative. Unless you have an alternative to a negotiated settlement, your position will be perceived as weak by an experienced negotiator. Threats communicate your desperation and can bring the negotiation to an end.
This is true in all circumstances - even if you are dealing with a client whose account is overdue and negotiating a method of payment, threats are pointless. Honest people would pay if they could and will be very worried by your behaviour; habitual debtors won’t give two hoots either way.
If people threaten you, you have two main choices. The first is simply to ignore it and to stick to the facts. The second is to ask for clarification of exactly what they mean. By all means take notes as you get more information; the threat is most likely a bluff and by doing this you let your counterpart know that you know it is a bluff. Do not respond with sarcasm or anger, simply take things at face value and use factual language.
When you are faced with bad behaviour of whatever kind, you should simply refuse to accept it. You can do this either by ignoring it or, as with threats, by questioning for clarification of meaning. The fact that you behave fairly and correctly will often encourage other people to do the same. Should someone be downright abusive, then use your judgement and knowledge of your employer to help you to decide how to handle it. In fairness, few employers would wish their staff to be subjected to such treatment.
- Be as honest and open as is wise.
- Do not react to provocative behaviour.
- Do not treat your opposite number with disrespect.
- Threats rarely work - and if you make them, you must follow them through or lose credibility.
- At all times, act according to your own personal code.