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What if we've been approaching negotiation all wrong?

We’re inclined to think of negotiations as big, one-off events. We frame them in antagonistic terms. We set up a false opposition between winning and losing. We imply that a successful outcome means focusing on our own objectives at the expense of an opponent. If we don’t achieve our outcomes, there’s a risk we might be seen as a pushover.

A relationship, not a transaction

In reality, negotiations are a part of everyday life and often form part of an ongoing relationship, rather than being an isolated transaction. Taking an aggressive, antagonistic approach to a particular issue may procure a short-term win (if it doesn’t result in deadlock), but is unlikely to help lay the foundations for a sustainable relationship in which both parties feel valued.

When we enter into a new relationship, we seek to build rapport and trust. We aim to listen as well as speak, to gain insights into the other person, as well as making our priorities and intentions known.

There’s another reason for building a relationship, too. Evidence shows that operating purely from self-interest can cloud our judgement and lead to unethical negotiating. In the heat of negotiations, ‘ethical fading’ comes into play – people are unable to see the ethical implications of their actions because their desire to win gets in the way. When we feel invested in a relationship, this effect is diminished.

Discover the ‘why’

Once a relationship is in place, we stand a better chance of getting to grips with what is driving demands. In other words, we need to ask not just ‘What…?” but ‘Why…?’ to gain a deeper understanding of the other party’s needs. It’s the ‘Why…?’ questions that can help move past deadlock on individual agenda items – they hold the key to more creative solutions.

A collaborative act of joint problem-solving

Negotiations are opportunities for collaboration. Going in with a pre-determined agenda of points (and an attitude of intransigence) sets up expectations that the process will be protracted and painstaking.

By contrast, releasing our tight grip on a particular result, and seeing negotiations as a creative endeavour is more likely to promote new ideas and lead to an outcome that suits all interests.

Choose your negotiator wisely

In Belbin terms, there are many combinations of Team Role behaviours (contributions) which can be assets for successful negotiators.

Resource Investigators are inquisitive, outgoing and adept at building rapport. In a negotiation, their genuine interest in the others’ perspectives is likely to shine through. However, it’s possible that they’ll talk more than they listen, so a secondary role of Teamworker or Co-ordinator might ensure a more collaborative approach.

Someone who combines Resource Investigator and Completer Finisher strengths may make highly effective negotiators. It’s a rare combination that makes them proficient at building strong relationships and persuading others, whilst keeping an eye to the details that could make or break an agreement.

Understand the other party

It’s not all about the assets of your own negotiator. Knowing the other party’s Team Role behaviours can help you better to understand their needs, and to predict how negotiations might unfold.

A Monitor Evaluator will likely need ample reflection time, whereas a Completer Finisher will want to ensure that every last detail has been considered.

A Shaper might seek to end negotiations quickly, whereas a Specialist will want to consider each matter in depth, especially where it concerns their own area of expertise.

A team effort?

Complex strategic negotiations often require myriad skills and behaviours, and sending a team rather than one individual can ensure complementarity with the Team Roles on the other side.

Of course, this approach is only effective if there is sufficient clarity – if each person knows their role. Otherwise, an over-zealous Specialist might offer too much information that derails progress, or an impatient Shaper might jump in at the wrong moment and jeopardise the final result.

Negotiation requires understanding on all fronts – understanding what we, those on our team and the other party bring to the negotiating table.

The Belbin Team Role model provides a universal language which can help to identify and predict behaviours, leading to a more favourable outcome for all concerned.

Have you used Belbin in negotiations, or to build relationships in what might otherwise have been ‘transactional’ relationships? Why not leave us a comment?


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