Getting Past “No”

Negotiation Needs of a VUCA world

“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”

[Daniele Vare, Italian diplomat]

We may not realize it, but to make decisions in our personal and professional lives we often use negotiation techniques. In many of our important decisions — those that have the greatest impact on our performance at work and your satisfaction at home — most of us need to reach out to others and negotiate.

    Experienced negotiators learn to focus on issues rather than harden on positions, and in so doing they engage in joint problem solving. In Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Process say the definition of wise agreement is “one that meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable, and takes community interests into account.”

    When we're operating under normal circumstances, these kinds of negotiations work well. But we're increasingly immersed in a context where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity have made their home. Stress and strain increase our emotional temperature and may fuel inflexibility in unexpected circumstances due to our desire for some form of control over our destiny.

    To achieve cooperation at work and at home, we need to overcome real-world barriers. William Ury wrote about the five most common ones in a follow up book, Getting Past No. Many if not most of them involve appreciating the perspective of the other party/ies.

    Empathy can help us meet them where they are in the way we react, and respect their emotions, position, dissatisfaction, and mental model for power.

— Reactions. We're designed to be reaction machines. Under stress, when facing a NO, or feeling we're being attacked, our natural reaction is to strike back. But this type of reaction creates a vicious cycle with two losers. Another impulsive reaction is to just give in, avoid confrontation and preserve the relationship. This is common in families, but also among colleagues. When we give in we “lose,” and may open the door to exploitation by others who see us as weak. To address the behavior by the other side, we  first and foremost need to address the part our own behavior, how we react, plays in the situation.

“You need to suspend your reaction when you feel like striking back, to listen when you feel like talking back, to ask questions when you feel like telling your opponent the answers, to bridge your differences when you feel like pushing for your way, and to educate when you feel like escalating.”

— Emotion. The next barrier is the other party's negative emotions. Behind the attacks are probably anger and hostility, and behind their rigid positions fear and distrust. It's easy to convince ourselves of anything under the influence of strong emotions. They may be convinced they're right and we are wrong, refuse to listen, and feel justified in using underhanded tactics. Strong emotions generate aggression and are hard to address head on lest we intend to bump into a wall. We also don't want to fall into the trap of raising our own emotional temperature.

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” says Ambrose Bierce

— Positions. In joint problem-solving, two or more parties face the problem and attack it together. The barrier to overcome is the other party's digging into a position and trying to move us to give in. By holding firm, the thinking goes, they'll get what they want. It's something we learn in the school of life growing up. This is an unsophisticated method but it persists because they perceive the choice as binary, they either win or give in.

When in reality, the real power in negotiation is developing a best alternative. Saying, “yes, and,” asking open-ended questions helps — Why? Why not? What if? What makes that fair? What would they do if they were in our position? How would they handle things?

— Dissatisfaction. Our goal may be to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, but we may find the other side not at all interested in this type of outcome. Maybe they don't see how it will benefit them. They may fear losing face if they have to back down, even when they get what they wanted. Understanding the other person's perspective in important, including how they may not embrace and idea because it comes from us.

Here we want to remain aware of the other party's needs for recognition, or security, how they tie their identity to the situation and ensure that the proposal is consistent with their principles and values.

— Power. In a dog-eat-dog world, the mindset creates a win-lose proposition as the only option available. This means winning by beating us. The precept may be more, “What's mine is mine. What's yours is mine,” than “negotiable.”

Here we can help the other party see how reaching an agreement is in their interest and see alternatives by asking questions like, “What do you think will happen if we don’t agree?” “What do you think I will do?” “What will you do?”

Silence is an important tool to use in conversation where power is a main concern. It also helps diffuse tension when we remain calm, ask open-ended questions, and let the other person speak in their own time.

    Getting past no is a good primer to organize our thinking and not fall prey of a closed mindset that ascribes fixed traits to the other party. We want to give them the benefit of being heard, rather than approaching the conversation with the idea we can do little or nothing to change their behavior.

    To affect behavior we need to deal successfully with the underlying motivations. Ury provides five techniques we can use to get past “no”:

1. Don't react — Go to the balcony
When we view any negotiation from a third person's point of view we remove emotion and have a better vantage point from which to see the picture. “Stay focused on your end goal and keep an eye on the prize,” reminds us of something Steve Jobs said in 1997 as he began to turn Apple around.

2. Disarm them — Step to their side
We should use counter-intuitive moves to diffuse the tension and avoid bumping into walls. Sometimes this means agreeing with our figurative opponents to get things done. By stepping to their side, we build on “yes,” and create a more positive feeling.

3. Change the game — Don't reject, reframe
Disagreement stokes the ego and leads to deeper entrenchment in positions. Asking open-ended questions like, “Why not?,” “What if?” “Tell me more. Help me understand why you want that” creates an atmosphere of partnership rather than opposition.

4. Make it easy to say yes — Build a golden bridge
In Asian cultures this is the equivalent of helping the other party save face. Hence the Chinese sage, “Build a golden bridge.” When we try to understand how our offer benefits the other person we have an easier time working toward it. The idea is to “Help write your opponent's victory speech,” and everything else will fall into place.

5. Make it hard to say no
Instead of bringing the other party to their knees by pressuring them to say “yes,” it makes more sense to make it harder to say “no” by using our power to educate. In this case, you come out of the negotiation without one lesser friend/prospect, with the possibility of a future agreement. “The best general is one that never has to fight.”

    We've all been in situations when the other party refuses to budge, or to talk. When we learn to view an irascible boss, a temperamental teenager, a hostile co-worker, or an impossible customer as a potential partner… or at least with empathy and compassion, we can avoid unpleasant escalations.

     Getting Past No is a useful deep dive to help us deal with many circumstances charged with emotion by responding and negotiating instead of reacting. Pair this reading with consideration as to how our unconscious mind rules our behavior, how decisions create confidence and behavior creates thought, and an understanding of the limits of our rationality in why and how we make decisions.

    Also by William Ury, The Power of a Positive No.