I have been teaching Negotiation skills for a number of years on two programmes at UCT GSB - Business Acumen for Artists and the Raymond Ackerman Academy, an emerging young entrepreneur programme. I have always used BATNA as a way to understand alternatives to negotiated agreements. The term which refers to ‘the Best Alternative to a Negotiated agreement’ was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury and runs to this day as part of the Harvard University Negotiation skills offering. More recently, however, I have been wanting to refresh my material on Negotiation Skills and find ways to include what I see as the three Cs of Leadership - Curiosity, Collaboration and Connection.
The clinical approach to Negotiations has always unsettled me a little. Generating alternatives seems rather solipsistic to me especially when you are never a party of one at a negotiation table. Notwithstanding, I do think that spending time thinking about what your best alternatives are to what you want is useful but not at the expense of the very real emotions that will be in the room.
In fact, according to Chris Voss, a recent FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator, in high stakes negotiations, the last things that comes to mind are logical choices for understanding the best alternatives.
Negotiations are emotional.
This seems to make sense especially when in a high stakes negotiation your best alternatives are 1) Murder 2) Surrender/Defeat 3) Suicide 4) Escape. Your limbic brain, the one driven by WHY is what drives decision making and decides on action. It is therefore of critical importance that when we negotiate we understand the emotional factors as these are what will drive behaviour.
To pretend that emotions don’t exist in negotiations is to lose sight of the fact that ultimately, what we decide on, is what we care about. For Voss, people “spend a lot of time calculating their BATNA, when they should be spending time figuring out how to influence the other side. And how to figure out how to listen to them effectively to find out what will influence them”.
To be successful, you need to understand that it is another human being, not a machine on the other side, build trust and the sense of a connection. What he also highlights is that so much time is spent planning and preparing one’s own argument that one forgets to really listen to the other side. “They don’t pay attention to emotions and they don’t listen”.
In a world where the questions are more important than the answers, when listening is often more effective than talking, isn’t it time we started using these insights in the work we do with others, that we bring our humanity to the work we do.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from someone who I thought was an incredible negotiator and did so for Johnson & Johnson on a regular global basis was this piece of advice: “Keep the other person whole”. Regardless of what it is you need to achieve attacks ad hominem are futile but more importantly, failing to establish a connection and not listening intently to the other side puts you at risk of a botched negotiation
We need the understanding that it is connectedness which will drive better human negotiations. Using this ‘connectedness’, the sense of wanting to develop a shared basis of trust and deep listening when we go through times that require negotiation, can only but be a benefit.