Positive Intent - Developing the skills to lead negotiations by Kim Sherwood
You don’t need to dig deeply into the literature of Leadership Development before you find advocates of ‘learning on the job’. Strong voices tell us that the best way for leaders to hone their skills is through the first-hand practice of leadership itself. I’ve got some sympathy for this viewpoint, there are some parts of leadership development that benefit from an ‘in at the deep-end approach’, it’s a great way of recognising the adaptability and resilience needed to do the job well, and it blows away the idea that you can learn leadership straight from a book.

But I’d suggest that there are other parts of the leadership role that need to be developed through a structured process of learning, and high on this list is negotiation.

The very last place that I’d want my leaders to be learning negotiation is during a negotiation.

Being effective in developing leadership negotiation skills gives us a real challenge as educators, “how can any learning environment authentically build the factionalism, passion and jeopardy that are the essence of important negotiations?”

The answer is that they can’t – no simulation or role play can build that level of intensity. The problem needs a different kind of solution.

What we need is an approach that allows us to work towards a set of learning objectives that cover:

  • Developing effective approaches to interest-based negotiation that go beyond win-lose mindsets.
  • Anticipating the actions and intentions of the other parties in order to enable proactive negotiation.
  • Observing and reflecting on the role that personality plays in negotiation.
  • Rehearsing the skills needed to deliberately and productively raise and lower the tension during negotiations.  
  • Recognising the needs of all parties at key stages in a negotiation.

An accessible and effective approach that will deliver these potential learning objectives is this:

  1. structure an experiential learning experience that encourages participants to care about the result and be so engaged that they go beyond role playing and demonstrate authentic patterns of behaviour,
  2. then structure an honest and open performance review that allows every participant to put themselves into the shoes of the other side.

In a. it’s clear that there is a need to choose an experience that best reflects the type of negotiation in which the participants are likely to be engaged i.e. reflecting their role and responsibility. At RSVP Design we would probably select T-trade  for senior negotiators, Post-it or Minefield at management level and Hollow Square for those needing fairly basic negotiation skills.

In b. it is important to structure a post-activity debrief that allows each person or group who has been involved to ask questions of the other party. The facilitator can do this in an open manner by inviting questions such as “Is there anything you would like to ask the other group(s)?” Alternatively the facilitator can ask each person or group “What do you think that the other group was trying to achieve? What was their strategy?” then asking whether this was indeed the case. Either of these structures, used as part of a debrief, allows the participants to make an informed connection between the intentions and behaviours of those who were across the negotiating table.

The insights that we’re trying to achieve are about building understanding of positive intent during negotiation. It’s very rare that people in negotiations behave in a way that doesn’t have a positive intent, and trying to understand what this is, is an extremely useful way of thinking i.e. asking yourself (Stated in the positive) “What is this person trying to achieve?” The result is that rather than answers such as “They are trying to stop me achieving the position I’ve given them” you end up with a positively stated, and usually more specific, alternative such as “They are trying to achieve a figure that’s somewhere between our positions”.

Learning to negotiate effectively needs quality practice. It’s a multi-person, multi positional, dynamic exchange that places great demands on the levels of interpersonal insight that each party brings to the table. The very last place that I’d want my leaders to be learning negotiation is in a negotiation, so I’m a strong advocate of investing in their development.

Author: Kim Sherwood

From RSVP Design UK