We at Impact Factory really do believe that negotiation is a game and those who enjoy playing are the best negotiators by far.
Hmmm. Calling it a game might make it sound frivolous; negotiation can be serious stuff. That's one of the things right at the top that make negotiating such a trial - it can feel like a life or death, do or die, last man standing kind of thing, which puts huge pressure on the negotiator to get it right, get what they want, get the desired outcome.
A do or die attitude certainly doesn't feel like a game.
Shifting your attitude so that you can enter into the negotiating arena as a 'player' will make a significant difference to your outcome. In order to shift your attitude, you need to take stock of your beliefs around negotiating which in turn lead to understanding your 'rules' about negotiating.
Pretty much everyone has their own set of rules and that's often why they find the subject so tricky. Not only do most people have rules for themselves, they also have expectations that those on the other side of the table will have similar rules.
However much the term 'win-win' is bandied about, you can't arrive at win-win without a deep understanding of what your own rules and beliefs are, because one of the main blockers to arriving at a successful conclusion is how you think the other person/people should behave.
If we dig a bit deeper, we run slap bang into Values and Values are those core principles that guide our lives. Here's an example: let's say that one of your core Values is that things should be fair and people should respect one another. Therefore, what most likely happens is that one of your rules for negotiation is that it ought to be fair with an even amount of give and take.
That's all well and good if you are negotiating with someone who has similar Values and thus similar rules.
Trouble starts when you come up against someone who has no interest in fairness, is determined to get his/her way and doesn't act particularly respectfully. What often happens is that negotiations then get focused on the wrong thing because of this values clash and they can more easily break down.
The more you are able to identify your rules, based on your beliefs and values, the more you can gain perspective on how much they influence your attitude when you enter a negotiation. This also means that you can check out, first, whether you expect the other person/people to have similar beliefs and rules; and, second, if they don't, whether you can step far enough back to identify what some of their rules might be.
If you can do that, you are beginning to 'play the game' of negotiation. The rules are in place; now what can you do next?
Again, if you can work to experience negotiation as a game, you could enjoy trying to figure out what the 'other side's' rules are, especially if you know they are different to yours.
I remember being in a negotiation once with someone who's number one rule was clearly 'win at all costs'. And I'll confess that it took me a few minutes to figure that out because I was there trying to be polite and considerate (my rules!) and he didn't want to know.
He was obviously used to getting his own way because he laid out his stall ("This is what I want.") with absolutely no interest in anything coming out of my mouth. I wasn't going to become a 'win at all costs' type of person in order to go head to head with him, but I very swiftly (well, somewhat swiftly, once I figured out what was going on) realised I was going to have to change tack to get anywhere.
I became honesty personified but with a very real tactic fuelling it. I just called it as I saw it, "I can see you want to win at all costs." "It doesn't feel as though you have any interest in what I'm saying." "You certainly know what you want."
It started to feel like a tennis match where every time he whacked the ball over to my court with one of his demands, I whacked it back by describing what he was doing. And it worked! Eventually he stopped and just laughed once he cottoned on to what I was doing. And then we got down to negotiating.
The point is that I couldn't play the 'game' by my rules because I'd be mincemeat; I didn't want to play by his 'rules' so I had to find a strategy that would work for both of us.
I was a player and it was fun.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory
Check out Impact Factory's range of Negotiations Skills One Day Courses as well as our Two Day Influencing & Negotiation courses.