Are the above sentences surprising? Are there questions like: Why? How is that possible? We’ve always heard that... so what’s going on?
Well, these are natural questions, resulting from our upbringing, education, background and from very strong social paradigms, which have been reinforced by our educational reality and work environment for years. We are a society marked by deep-seated distrust of other people and, of course, of most institutions and organizations. Above all, however, our understating of communication in negotiations results from a lack of any education in this area. In order to realize how little we know and what meagre negotiating skills we have, it is enough to ask the question: in which grade of primary school did we learn communication skills? If you say that we learnt to communicate in every grade, I’ll add more substance to my words. Did any of us, adults, have a lesson about, for instance, ‘creative problem solving’ or ‘resolving conflicts’ or ‘responding to aggression’? Well, there were no such topics. So where are we supposed to have this knowledge from? From life? So why couldn’t we learn trigonometry or how to drive a car from life? ‘From life’ suggests extremely poor results!
In order to fully clarify this poverty of knowledge, I will present a fact from our professional reality, in the form of a question. How many hours do you think lawyers spend learning how to negotiate during their studies? After all, this is a profession in which negotiating skills seem to be really important, isn’t it? The answer is none at all! Surprised?
Do not attack
Let us cut to the chase, then. How do professional negotiators think and act? What is the source of their effectiveness?
Imagine someone attacking us during a business conversation with very harsh words. They insult us, slander us, and accuse us of something we haven’t done. Let’s assume it’s our customer. We know them and we know that they can become pretty rough. Now they are lying, attacking, slandering during negotiations. What should we do in this situation? What will be the best response?
A professional negotiator will not become defensive or emotional in their response. They will start by asking themselves the question: What should I strive for? What should be the best possible scenario? And, accordingly, what should my objective be? Only then will they decide how to act. This is our customer. They are acting badly. Is there a reason for such behavior? And here we need to answer the question: Can a person do something without a reason? Well, they probably have a reason. Is it worth discovering this reason? If we know the reason for such behavior, will it not be easier to make contact with the customer in a way that will calm the situation down? Certainly, yes; the chances of effective communication will be greater. But on the other hand, it’s they who are behaving badly! That’s true. They are behaving badly. What will happen if we attack them by asking, ’Why are you acting this way?! What you’re saying simply is not true! It’s reprehensible!’ Or if we question their message? What will their reaction be? We all know perfectly well: the conflict will only get worse, and their irritation will only grow. What will happen to our relationship with the customer? It will get worse. What is the prospect of working together? Much worse. Even if we collaborate further, this collaboration will be burdened with the negative feelings from the past. So, this option is at the least an undesirable one. Well, in that case, is there a better way? Of course there is.