Negotiation Training Institute

"The Power of N-ego "

By James A. (Jim) Baker

It can happen almost without warning; both sides seem to have hit it off and the conversation is going very well. A lot of helpful information has been shared already, everyone has a clear idea of the goals that need to be accomplished, and the momentum is all positive. Then, as often happens during a negotiation, a particular detail emerges about which the parties disagree, and suddenly the atmosphere changes. Tension quickly fills the room, one or both sides become focused on the disagreement, and that cooperative atmosphere melts away like snowflakes in San Diego.

To an outside observer, negotiating might seem like working a jig-saw puzzle; just a matter of sticking with it long enough until you get all the pieces in the right place. There is an element of truth to this comparison, as long as you keep in mind the fact that both sides have a different opinion about what the final picture is supposed to look like, and also add in the likelihood that one or both parties may be holding onto pieces of the puzzle that they don’t really want to give up!

It is important to remember that negotiations are usually born out of a set of urgent needs or desires held by one or more parties. In order for these needs or desires to be fulfilled, other parties must be persuaded to give up certain items that may be important to them, and the only way to do that is to make sure that some of their needs are met, too. Needs, desires, dreams, problems, hopes, goals – these all have an emotional component. People can be very protective and defensive when it comes to protecting their needs and dreams. Unfortunately, the more emotional a person becomes about something during a negotiation, the more likely they are to quit thinking constructively and collaboratively, choosing instead to simply dig in and fight.

If you expect to become an effective, successful negotiator, you must learn to practice the principle of N-ego, which is simply short hand for NO Ego. Nothing will sink a negotiation faster than letting emotions – yours or the other side’s – get in the way of pursuing the main goals that brought you together in the first place. It may not always be possible to keep from becoming emotional when certain hot-button issues arise. (After all, we are all only human.) However, you can learn now to prevent emotions from interfering with your ability to keep your eyes on the prize – a win-win solution that will allow both sides to feel glad about the final outcome.

Here are three important factors that come into play in any negotiation, and which can create problematic emotional obstacles if not handled properly:

Interests – You might call these the WHY behind the negotiation. Interests are comprised of each person’s values, belief systems, assumptions, dreams, desires and fears. Interests form the underlying motivations which bring someone to the negotiation table in the first place. There are two big problems with interests. First of all, they are often hidden or disguised under some other stated – but disingenuous – purpose. The other difficulty with interests is that they are non-negotiable, because they form the motivation for coming to the table in the first place. Someone shopping for a car may explain that he is looking at a certain model because he wants to give it to his daughter as a graduation present. What he may not reveal is that he has already promised his daughter a car for graduation, but his finances have recently suffered a loss, and now he is not only under pressure to keep his promise to his daughter, but he MUST keep the drive-out price below a certain number in order to be able to keep his promise at all. His fear of not being able to keep his promise becomes an interest that is equal to – and probably even greater than – his original desire to purchase the car. This shopper will not respond very well to tactics designed to boost him into a higher price class or devalue his trade-in, and he may become volatile or walk away altogether. Attacking these interests will almost always cause the negotiation to unravel. Because interests are usually hidden or disguised at the beginning, you must be very careful to ask good questions and try to carefully and graciously uncover these interests as the conversation moves along. Be sensitive to the fact that things are rarely what they appear to be, and you will be less likely to trigger emotional ego responses in the first place.

Issues – These form the WHAT of the negotiation. Issues are the pieces on the chessboard that are manipulated and traded in an attempt to help each party achieve the goals that will satisfy their underlying interests. These items ARE negotiable, and understanding how to use them is your best defense against emotions and ego. Once it is clear that a certain issue is not going to be resolved in the way you would like, don’t continue to force it. You are probably running up against a hidden interest, so find a way to work with another issue or trade a concession in another area in a way that will take you closer to your goal. If you get focused in “winning” on a certain issue, your ego may submarine the whole deal, because now you have adopted a position.

Positions – These are the HOWs of the negotiation. Everyone comes to the table with some preconceived notions of the best way issues should be handled in order to solve the problem. These assumptions become their opening positions. However, a negotiation is really about trading concessions and discovering compromises that will draw each side out of their positions and into a constructive, creative solution. Digging into a position and refusing to compromise or make concessions is the ultimate emotional, ego-driven strategy. Don’t let your positions prevent you from working for other solutions. Also, by patiently offering new, creative solutions, you may be able to coax the other side out of their positions as well. Instead of attacking a position, ask why it is important. The answer you receive may give you a key for finding an alternative.

Remember, the power of N-ego is just that: setting aside emotions and egos, and finding the solutions that are possible, instead clinging to the solutions you wish you could achieve. Isn’t that the point of negotiating in the first place?


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