By Paul Quain - 28 June 2018
The world held its breath earlier this month. Not because Germany made an early departure from the world cup! In fact, we were looking eastward.
All eyes were focused on Singapore as King Jong-Un met together with Donald Trump. A breakthrough in what seemed to be an intractable problem facing the world? Or a media circus which achieved nothing?
Whatever your view (and a case can be made for both ), there is an interesting parallel to the workplace. Often, we are in situations where we know there is going to be a dispute with one of our employees. We fear they are going to bring a claim, or perhaps they do bring a claim. How do we negotiate? Do we make an offer early or play hardball? At what point do we make concessions? If we take a hard line, do we always win?
If we follow Donald Trump’s example then we should start with a very hard position, ridicule the other side and threaten to destroy them. We should then very quickly agree a meeting and lavish praise on them. We might appear ambiguous in our approach and then this will sow the seeds of an agreement. Somehow our experience tells us that this approach will fail more often than it will succeed, at least in the workplace even if it is not (although this remains to be seen) always the case in international politics.
Sometimes taking a very hard line for a long time will disincentivise an opponent employee and they will give up. Or they may not be able to afford the long game. You need however, to have chosen this as a deliberate tactic because of these reasons. If it is a default tactic applied without thought then - in our experience - it often fails.
It is worth remembering that negotiation with an employee is usually not just about cash. It is often affected by emotion just as much as the “bottom line”. Negotiation over employment issues is in fact about human interaction as much as it is about the end game. The question we should always be trying to answer is: “how do I engage with others in the best possible way so we get a better outcome and better agreements?”
This fundamental premise is true in pretty much any situation or any type of dispute. It may explain why the UK is not hitting the right note in its negotiations with the EU over Brexit (which seems to be widely accepted by both commentators and public opinion alike).
One of the fundamental skills in a negotiation is empathy. That is seeing and understanding what the deal really means to the other side. Seeing beyond what they are saying and understanding the fundamental dynamics of what is going on. This is different from understanding how much money is available and working out how you might get as much of possible from this (which might be your approach in a business deal).
The more aggressive or unreasonable (or sometimes just plain mad) another person seems, the more important the skill of empathy becomes. If you can try to understand how they are seeing the world and what is driving their behaviour you then will have far more tools to manage it, deal with it, form a strategy, if necessary undermine it and will be more likely to be successful. Calling them crazy may make you feel better. It is unlikely to bring them to the table. Getting them to understand your drivers (increasing their empathy) will also assist in finding that breakthrough.
The one thing that Donald Trump does not appear to like (and nor does David Davis in his Brexit negotiations if media reports are to be believed) is planning. He prefers to do this by intuition and gut instinct.
The clear majority of successful negations however, only succeed with very careful planning and thinking about all the potential moves and what is driving both sides. You also need to plan the negotiation process. Can elements be broken down which can be agreed first? Can we agree an overall position subject to numbers? We need to agree on what we disagree about?
Trump’s approach generally appears to see the world in terms of winners and losers and he is inclined to do whatever it takes to be (in his eyes) a winner. This may be a caricature, but it encapsulates a particular type of approach which we do come across and is particularly prevalent in current times.
More realistically people who see the negotiations of mutual wins and losses, win-win and lose-lose, tend to have a more successful track record when it comes to this sort of thing.