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BUSINESS FIRST June\July 2012 www.businessfirstmagazine.co.uk


BUSINESS


As a British ambassador in the Balkans, Charles Crawford chaired negotiations amidst the chaotic fallout from war. He says the same techniques work in the boardroom.


NEGOTIATING CHAIRING


AND


ruling various options in – and implicitly ruling some out. This craftily shapes the way the participants themselves look at what is happening.


We’ve all sat through PowerPoint presentations on how to negotiate in business. Diagrams! Arrows! Exit and entry strategies! And teeming acronyms (ZOPA, BATNA, WATNA, PIN) that sound sensible and look fleetingly pretty on the screen. But are then promptly forgotten.


Now that I am the one doing the teaching, running courses on Diplomatic Negotiation, I have decided to concentrate on what Jeeves called ’the psychology of the individual’. This means finding out what people really think about issues as the basis for making progress. It also means not taking for granted that people actually do have a clear or coherent view on issues directly concerning them, even though they say they do.


So how do you find out? One key technique is the open question, one that rules out a simple yes or no answer. Another is skilled reframing and reflecting, taking your negotiating partner’s words and using them yourself to identify the underlying motivations. This is also a highly efficient way to chair a meeting. You define the issues in a positive, light-touch (if not almost abstract) way right at the start, thereby


A good way to start is to say briefly what the meeting needs to achieve and why that achievement matters (obliquely flattering the others present). Then you sum up in literally a few words what the key issues are:


Can we agree that we need to sort out three things today?


First, Commitment – are we all prepared to give time and money to these new projects, and roughly how much?


Second, Balance - how do we divide our resources between the different priorities? Let’s be honest: it’s much easier to get anything done in country X, but needs in country Y are much greater.


And third, Leadership (or if you like, Status). Who will be the figurehead of the project, and who will have lead operational responsibility?


Some participants may want to add other elements, such as urgency or security, or involve other partners. Fine. Spelling out in simple terms some core targets at the beginning makes it easier for others to frame/articulate their own contributions in a similarly direct way.


Another skill of a good chair is 'pocketing progress'. If someone makes a positive move, welcome that move


explicitly as a positive step forward. Don’t press them to clarify points of detail: that may create undue pressure and make the person concerned backtrack.


The chair should not take copious notes. Get someone else to do it. Focus instead on 'reframing' language, subtly steering debate in a constructive direction. If possible recall key words used at the start:


I think what I'm hearing from you is flexibility on Money, but in return you need a bigger role in Leadership. Is that a fair summary?


And reflect back their 'intensity'. If someone is getting agitated, a good chair should not sit back and relax, but show by body language and tone of voice that that person's opinions are heard:


Look, I see you’re very unhappy with how we are tackling Balance. Has anyone any suggestions for how that concern might be met?


In short, build momentum of inclusive goodwill and cooperation, then - with everyone in a positive frame of mind - start to nail down controversial details.


All much easier said than done, not least when you’re haggling with denizens of the Balkans who fear war crimes indictments for themselves or their friends. But deploying this methodology in your business negotiations large and small will prove more beneficial than a bunch of acronyms.


BF


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