Lost Art

Harrison Ford starred in the classic movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson starred in Lost in Translation. Richard Dreyfuss played the lead in Lost in Yonkers. The television show Lost in Space ran from 1965-68. And entrepreneurs star every day in the Lost Art of Negotiation. Why is negotiation a lost art? I believe that too many of us see negotiating as a competition.

Google gives 90,500,000 results for the word negotiation so there’s no shortage of material about the subject. But I don’t want to focus on negotiating techniques – that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to offer some ideas that may be helpful in making the negotiating process more productive.

If we start with the premise in a negotiation that we want to win, then it becomes a competition where someone (not us) is going to lose. From here we harden into our “positions” and the tension begins. There is a better way. First, we need to see a negotiation as an opportunity to solve a problem. It’s actually a dual problem – one for us and one for another party. Trying to solve just our problem may be far more difficult than figuring out how to solve for both parties. What do we do when we solve a problem? We start by clearly defining all elements of the problem. Then we catalog all of the possible solutions. Our innovation and creativity come into play at this point.

In the process of attacking the problem we establish our bedrock principles. For example we may resolve that no matter what, we will always be respectful. Perhaps we commit to avoid getting hung up on personalities. Or we may decide that regardless of how dirty the other party may play, our approach will continually reflect total integrity. Ultimately our analysis leads us to the bottom line for the most critical factors to the outcome we believe will best solve the problem for both parties.

Recently I was coaching a business owner about the potential sale of her company. I asked her what her bottom line number was and she gave me a figure. Then I asked her if negotiations led to a value that was $50,000 less than her bottom line number, would she sell. She replied in the affirmative. So we went back and forth with the $50,000 question until we finally reached an amount that she absolutely positively would not accept. The takeaway for her was that the initial figure she thought was her bottom line number actually wasn’t.

As we engage in a negotiation we listen to and understand what the other party is telling us. This information is then overlaid onto the problem we have identified and our array of solutions is applied. We avoid confrontation by working from a set of facts; seek agreement wherever possible, and constantly narrow the scope of issues.

Being in the commercial real estate business I’ve been in continuous negotiations in one form or another for more than 40 years. You can read all the books you want and watch all the videos in the world on negotiating strategies. And if you pay attention to them you can easily end up getting too cutesy. I have found that a pretty straightforward approach has been extremely successful for me. I don’t try to outthink the other party or construct a series of chess-like moves. Instead, I know what my bottom line is and I know the principles that I want to maintain. If I have to violate my principles to get to my bottom line I’ll withdraw. And I’ve learned that transparency and respect have been more valuable than anything else.

Entering a negotiation as a creative opportunity to solve a problem for both parties puts us on the same path. Bedrock principles and a clear understanding of our bottom line is then the recipe for a positive outcome.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Anti-Bulldozer

Many of us entrepreneurs have a tendency to be a bit aggressive at times. The appropriate analogy might be something about a bull in a china shop. Speaking for myself I know there have been times when I pushed through a situation and likely ran roughshod over others who were involved. It’s not that we do so intentionally, but we are naturally assertive and want to get things done . . . right now!

Much earlier in my career I was totally oblivious to how others might be reacting to me. I had not yet learned how to “read” people. I thought I was doing things the right way, but apparently was stepping on a lot of toes in the process. When this was pointed out to me I became a bit defensive and thought, “It’s not my problem if others have such thin skins.” Perhaps this was true in a literal sense, but how others feel and perceive us becomes reality – regardless of what we intend. What I didn’t realize is that being the bulldozer caused my colleagues and others to resent me and not want to work with me.

After many years it became apparent that others weren’t going to change – I needed to instead. Fortunately this didn’t require me to compromise my principles. But I realized that not only did I need to understand how others were responding to me, but also that I needed to adjust my approach accordingly. I began to pay close attention to “reading” people and modifying my approach away from a “one-size fits-all.”

Reading people is multi-faceted. It requires us to listen not only to what others say but how they say it. If I am laying out a strategy and asking for feedback, I need to pay attention to voice inflection, pitch, cadence and tone. I need to watch facial features. Does the other person’s jaw clench; is there an eye twitch; does the color change in his or her face, and do the nostrils flair? I must observe other body language tells. Is there a stiffening or turning of the body; do the arms fold or gesture in some way; do the fists clench; does the head raise or drop; is eye contact lost; what do I see in the eyes, and does the person literally shrink in position? How exactly does the person verbally respond? Is there hesitation before speaking? What words are selected by the person in his or her response?

People reads are only part of the sensitivity process. How do I conduct myself when receiving feedback? Is my body language open or closed? Do I keep a smile on my face or do I send signals that I don’t really want to hear what is being said? Am I truly listening or just giving the appearance of doing so? I have found that repeating back what the other person says helps send the message that I am listening. Then it’s important for me to acknowledge what is being said in a positive manner. For example, “I hear you when you tell me that you aren’t in favor of reaching out to the client in the manner I suggested and understand why you feel the way you do. Let’s come up with a different way of handling this.” In the old days I would simply tell the person to “just do it.” Today, it’s become much more important for me to be flexible and help others find different ways to reach the same end goal than just the way I want to do it.

Sensitivity is not a weakness. Instead it is an effective leadership trait. Reading people; listening to them; understanding what they are saying, and making the necessary adjustments engenders the trust and confidence of our team.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Ear and the Brain

Question: I’m struggling to communicate with a co-worker. How do I get him to listen to me?

Answer: This question sure hits home. The mind of an entrepreneur is racing at 100 miles per hour. We juggle balls of all shapes and sizes. Frequently we are on the move at warp speed. People think we listen . . . and WE think we listen. But sometimes there are complicating factors.

If I say “hello” to you, usually you will say “hello” back to me. Does that mean that I listened to you? Maybe. But it’s for certain that I heard you. Listening is more complicated than the simple act of hearing. Let’s assume that you come into my office and tell me that there’s an issue with a particular client. You describe a course of action that you want me to approve to resolve this issue. I nod. I may murmur, “uh-huh.” And you leave believing that you have my consent. A week later you tell me that the matter was taken care of although there was some fallout with the client. I give you a blank stare at which point you say, “I told you about this last week!” You get another blank stare from me at which point I might suggest how you could have resolved the issue without the fallout. In the end you are irritated because of this outcome. What happened here?

This is a real life classic example of hearing and not listening. Members of my team who read this are nodding their heads so hard right now that they’re going to get whiplash. When you came into my office I had just finished a phone conversation and was still processing the gist of it. A thought also popped into my head about a related matter, and I needed to leave for a lunch meeting. I certainly heard you but didn’t have the presence of mind to slow down and listen to what you were saying.

There are several solutions. The easiest is to make certain that I am in a listening mode. Ask me if now is a good time to chat. I may ask if we could do it later and set an appointment with you. Or, if I have time, I’ll talk then. After you are finished telling me what you have to say, ask me for specific feedback – pros and cons or other thoughts I might have. Once a course of action is determined, ask me to summarize what I understand is going to happen. This can be done by you simply saying, “I want to make sure I do this the way we have agreed. Would you mind summarizing what you understand that I am to do?”

We all know that clear communications is paramount to success. It’s critical that we make certain that the people with whom we are communicating are truly listening to us and not just hearing what we say. Ultimately it’s our responsibility to make this happen.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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