Negotiation Reality Check

Negotiation Reality Check: Manner, issues, and timing create impact

by Jeffrey Hansler, CSP

Between June 1948 and May 1949, in response to the Soviet Union’s negotiation tactic of blockading the Western Allies’ rail, road, and canal access to Western Berlin to gain control of the city, the allies supplied all necessary supplies through an airlift. The success of the airlift embarrassed the Soviet Union leaders and began the series of events that ultimately lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union’s political agenda.

Although, situations are different and people are different, there are common expectations regarding negotiations. In order to improve negotiation efforts and outcomes, the biggest challenge in far too many negotiations is getting both parties to realize they are their own worst enemy because of the manner in which they negotiate, what they negotiate about, and when they discuss their most important negotiation issues. Strong arm tactics, game playing, and threats never work over the long-term.

Negotiating the wrong way, on the wrong issues, at the wrong time hurts your organization. People want to be treated fairly regarding the issues important to them with the time available to work through the emotional aspects of the negotiation. If they cannot receive this from the other side, then they will eventually find a way to avoid the situation, issue, and negotiation itself.

Today, more than ever, everyone has options beyond any negotiation with which they are faced. Learning how to negotiate properly on the right issues at the right time is paramount to your organization’s future success. While you may not ‘relate’ to the following examples, they clearly demonstrate the impact manner, issues, and timing will have in your negotiations.

January 6, 2013 Los Angeles Times headline: ‘Breaking News: NHL, Union reach tentative agreement’ Who Cares?!

‘Who cares?’ was the comment I heard when I was in Sullivan’s Tap, a popular hockey bar in Boston, in August 2012 when news of the pending NHL labor dispute came on the TV. The outburst was backed by a few supportive expletives from others. ‘Turn the channel’ was the final suggestion. And the channel was changed.

Should anyone really be surprised after four NHL lockouts: 1991-92, 1994-95, 2004-05, and now 2012-13? The NHL and the players union have missed the point: In today’s world, there are always other options!

They are negotiating at the wrong time: Letting their disagreements hurt the fans by taking negotiations into the final hour and canceling games is hurting their only real asset.

They are negotiating over the wrong things: Having games or not having games should not be on either side’s negotiating table.

They are negotiating at the wrong time: Although Hollywood may have made it appear to be a good tactic to use deadlines as a negotiation tool, it is not. As deadlines approach, emotions explode and feelings get hurt. Unresolved issues get buried, and resentment builds. The resentment is carried into the next negotiations and the situation decays time and time again. Eventually, people just get tired of dealing with it, and find other ‘solutions’.

Level5 Strategy Group in Toronto, a brand specialist organization, surveyed 1,066 Canadians and determined emotions associated with the NHL are more negative than BP during the gulf oil spill.

Without the fans, there is no need to negotiate anything. It is conservatively estimated that the NHL has lost more than 30% of their market clout (fans, sponsors, financing, etc.) and possibly destroyed any chance of future growth.

December 28, 2012, USA TodayUnionized dockworkers along the East Coast are threatening to strike starting Sunday, a move that could disrupt commerce across the country.The article didn’t even make the front page.

Do the US port operators and dockworkers really believe there is no other option for commerce to occur if they continue their current positions?

History proves time and time again that trying to ‘control’ a market never works. There is always another option – maybe not today, but soon enough!

During the last three years, we have been involved in a project to help a construction trade union increase membership and market share. At one time, they had 95% of the market share of construction work. Today estimates put them at less than 6% of the market share of construction work.

How did we propose to increase their membership and market share?

Without union contractors obtaining work, there is no need for union membership. We suggested they focus on establishing better relationships with their current contractors and focus on the market issues facing their contractors, which have not been part of their negotiations in the past.

Traditionally, unions have focused on pay, pensions, training and work rules (wages, benefits, apprenticeship, and jurisdiction). They provided a unified voice for the working individual, and historically brought needed improvements in treatment, working conditions, wages, healthcare, and retirement.

Before we started our project with them, they had been engaged with stopping ‘chemical urinals’ from being installed on government projects. Why, because chemical urinals did not need piping for water and this negatively affected the amount of work for their ‘jurisdiction’. They just didn’t see the bigger picture of the need to be ‘green’ with regards to water usage. This and hundreds of other examples of the union trying to ‘control’ a market have been the great contributors to their demise. Instead of looking to add value, they have spent their time fighting yesterday’s battles.

Don’t jump on the band wagon of trashing the unions though! ‘Management’ is just as responsible. They have done little to change as well.

In one of the first negotiations we were invited in to watch, management walked in the room together, and as one sat down on one side of the table, ready to do battle. They came in looking for a fight and they got one.  What we saw was finger pointing taken to an entirely new art level!

After that exhibition, it was clear where our work needed to begin. Within a few months of working with business managers, we were able to reduce months of negotiations down to a few meetings held over a few days. More importantly, the emotional result of the negotiations was increased trust, cooperation, and a commitment to add value to the contractor’s efforts to increase market share and thus membership.

The only way to thrive in today’s world is to change the relationship between the negotiating parties, the issues negotiated, and the timing of negotiations.

Negotiate the right way: Change the negotiation approach, style, and intention so that trust and relationships are built.

Negotiate on the right issues: Focus discussions on the issues, the market, and environment are levying on all participants – especially the ‘ultimate’ buyer of your product and services.

Negotiate at the right time: Begin open discussions on critical issues well in advance of the formal schedules and deadlines so there is plenty of time to deal with the emotions that arise out of those issues.

Will these changes be enough to save the situation for the NHL, US Ports, or union construction at this point? Only time will tell.

And how many more ‘fiscal cliffs’ will we need to endure before our political leaders change the way they conduct their negotiations?

In the meantime, let’s watch some football or soccer or rugby or …


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Jeffrey Hansler, CSP: Partner

Jeffrey is an expert at organizational development, leadership, and persuasive communication which includes skills of influence, negotiation, sales, body language, micro-expressions, and authority.

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