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Published: November 30, 2006

 
 

Best Business Books: Negotiation

The book thus makes a good case that successful negotiators do not suppress feeling. They “read” it, in themselves and their counterparties, and this then becomes the source of their wisdom: It helps them understand what is going on. Emotional skill is also directly related to the art of negotiation: the ability to express emotion in a way that encourages others to recognize and express their own feelings, and thus influence what is going on more effectively. There is also a link to science. Good negotiators do not try to manage emotions directly, because emotions are too complex and fluid. Instead, negotiators dispassionately analyze the “core concerns” that have given rise to the flood of feeling that is already in the room when an important negotiation takes place.

The authors identify five concerns that affect a negotiator’s emotions: appreciation (being valued), affiliation (being welcomed in the group), autonomy (being trusted to make independent judgments and act accordingly), status (being recognized), and role (having the authority to change the mission). When these concerns are satisfied, then people feel positive. When they are not, people tend to feel negative. It is easier to negotiate with someone who feels positive than with someone who feels negative — and when feeling positive rather than negative oneself. Accordingly, the bulk of the book is about how to help others (and yourself) satisfy these concerns.

A negotiator does not have to expect a long-term relationship with his or her counterparty to benefit from predominantly positive feelings on both sides of the table. For example, optimism helps generate the kind of problem-solving approach that can unblock an impasse. Anger on the other side can reduce your leverage, encouraging the other side to walk when a coolly rational perspective would keep them in the room. Above all, positive emotions help build trusting relationships, which, whether or not they last beyond the negotiations themselves, help the parties think creatively and make less risky concessions.

The authors cite President Jimmy Carter’s Camp David talks with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in the 1970s:

Begin had asked for autographed pictures of Carter, Sadat and himself to give to his grandchildren. Carter personalized each picture with the name of a Begin grandchild. During the stalemate in talks, Carter handed Begin the photographs.… [Begin’s] lips trembled.… He and Carter talked quietly about grandchildren and about war. This was a turning point in the negotiation.… Begin talked to Carter about difficult issues without resisting or walking out.

Professor Fisher and Mr. Shapiro offer sensible, enlightened advice about how to meet everyone’s core concerns. The book is well structured and extremely clear, with good examples. Much of it will be useful in a far wider range of situations than the negotiating table.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is an account by the former president of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad, of his negotiations with President Alberto Fujimori of Peru to settle a long-running border dispute in the Amazon. A turning point came when Professor Fisher advised the two presidents to be photographed not simply shaking hands, but poring over a map, pencils in hand. This created an expectation in both countries that a solution would be found and that the presidents would be responsible. The photograph created one of Professor Shell’s “positioning themes.” The solution involved concessions on both sides, but it was no longer a simple zero-sum game: There was to be an international conservation park, and an allocation of sovereignty rights to Peru and property rights to Ecuador.

Together, these three books make clear one thing that none of them emphasizes heavily enough: Negotiation and leadership are inextricably linked. Good negotiators must think about the interests of all the parties concerned — their objectives, style, and tactics. They must inspire others to collective purpose, making friends with the other side, and setting norms that will favor the desired goals (as President Carter did with the photographs). They must mobilize others to play a part in moving toward common purpose and objectives, which allows each side to make concessions. And they must empower others, giving them the tools they need (including a signed contract) to deliver the desired results. These are the tasks of leadership as well. In short, every act of leadership is a form of negotiation, and every successful negotiation is a form of leadership. Beyond Reason is the best negotiation book of the year because it illuminates the often overlooked but critical factor of emotional presence. But all three books, spelling out the art, science, and wisdom of negotiation, are indispensable for learning leadership in general.

 
 
 
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