How do you negotiate? – Part 1

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
-John F. Kennedy-

Liz: “I told you I need white ribbons!”

Delivery Guy: “Well, you never said it needs to be white, you only said you need 1,000 ribbons for a wedding!”

Upset Liz: “You’re kidding right? What’s wrong with you? It is a white wedding, not a funeral. They need white ribbons on the chocolate boxes!”

Upset Delivery Guy: “You are so stubborn, what does it matter white or black, a ribbon is a ribbon, I need to get going, I will charge you the regular fee.”

Furious Liz: “How dare you charge me!? You messed it up, you didn’t deliver, I will never work with you again.”

Furious Delivery Guy: “You are impossible to work with, you are impossible to negotiate with. I do not understand how anyone buys anything from you!”

We all need to negotiate. We all face conflicts. It’s part of life and part of a business owner’s life. Sometimes it’s not fair, sometimes it’s not nice, we don’t like it but we need to do it, and as Charlie said “If we need to do it, why not learn how to do it right”.

A lot of my friends are constantly trying to avoid conflicts, believing they can go through life without upsetting anyone, go through life finding creative ways to avoid conflict, avoiding the feeling of anger and even betrayal, avoiding the fear of losing face or losing a friend or a colleague. Some of my friends are proud to say they never had disagreement with anyone. They never had a conflict, they never need to negotiate.

Sounds great right? No conflicts, no bad feelings, no anger, no heartache, all is well. But think about it for a minute, can we really do it? Can we really go through life without ever facing a conflict? Can we really avoid any disagreement?

What about the time when you were 12 years old and your friends wanted to see the latest Superman movie while you really wanted to see dirty dancing (don’t you love Patrick Swayze)? How about the time you wanted to buy your first house which was a tad too high for your budget? How about the time when you had to decide on your next vacation or to buy a car? When you were asking for a promotion, negotiate your first lease, contract with your vendors. Remember the time in which one of your big clients left you? Did you ever try to convince her to come back? Have you ever faced angry clients?

Conflicts happen, it’s a fact. Two different points of view happen, it’s a fact. Disagreement happen, it’s a fact. What do you do is the key. The “easiest” way is to just agree with the other side, it’s even “easier” not to offer your opinion, just agree, no conflict, no mess, nice life. Sure, let’s see Superman. Thank you, I’ll buy the house at your price, no, don’t worry about my budget. Thank you, I’ll sign on these new terms. I understand, please go ahead and use only my competitor’s services. Great, who cares if the ribbons are white or black, a ribbon is a ribbon. Ah this guy made me so upset!

Do you see the problem? I know you do.

“If we need to do it, why not learn how to do it right.”

It took me many years to learn how to negotiate, I am still learning. However, the first step for me was to realize that I can’t be afraid to negotiate. I can’t continue to avoid every conflict. I needed to learn how to face my conflicts, I needed to learn how to negotiate, not in order to always “win”, not in order to “show” the other person that I am right and they are wrong. Not in order to get the “last buck” off the table, but in order to achieve my vision and build relationships.

I wanted to learn how to handle conflicts so I can learn more about myself and about others. I wanted to achieve the elusive (Charlie loves this word) win-win situation. I wanted to learn and have the tool to handle tough situations, I didn’t want to go home upset. I didn’t want to yell at my husband after another shouting match with a supplier. I wanted to learn how to handle situations where it seemed the other side is difficult, stubborn and refuse to listen to the truth (how come my side was always the real truth?).

I remember speaking with Charlie about my black ribbons day. It was supposed to be a perfect day, my store’s first big wedding order, it could have started a new service offering, another way to make people happy, another way to spread sweetness. I signed to deliver a chocolate inside a purple box with a white ribbon on top. I already had 1,000 purple boxes filled with white chocolate shaped as two hearts. The delivery guy came with a big box filled with ribbons. I was so happy, the delivery guy was happy, I opened the box and I almost cried, neatly arranged, I saw rows of black ribbons.

Upset Liz: “You’re kidding right? What’s wrong with you? It is a white wedding, not a funeral. They need white ribbons on the chocolate boxes!”

As I was telling Charlie the story, tears dropped from my eyes, Charlie handed me his handkerchief, I was really upset. I remembered feeling like a failure, my dream shattered, no happy client, no sweetness, all I could see were rows of black ribbons. I told Charlie I failed.

Charlie looked at me and said “You only fail if you refuse to learn, there is no failure, only learning”. Charlie then picked up his brown suitcase; it is so elegant, my dear uncle used to have one like this. He looked for a minute and then pulled up a book. It was called “Getting to Yes”. Please promise me to read it before my next post!

My first learning from the book and the first principle highlighted by the brilliant authors is that when faced with a conflict, when we need to negotiate, we have to separate the people from the problem. I was so upset with the delivery guy. He was so upset with me. We focused on the people instead of the problem. We got emotionally attached to our feelings. We forgot to focus on the problem. In the book, the authors want you to reach a point in which you can address a problem without damaging the relationship. Doing that help you think more clearly about the problem instead of your ego, your feelings. Perceptions, emotions and communication are the main sources of people problems.

Our perceptions lead us to interpret facts differently. The fact is we have a box of black ribbons. However we interpret the reason for this fact differently, I thought the delivery guy didn’t care and brought me the cheap black ribbons, he thought I never told him to deliver white ribbons so he went ahead and got me an order of the expensive black ribbons. We blamed each other instead of understanding each other.

Think about your latest conflict, what were the real facts, not your interpretation of the facts. What really happened? Many conflicts are based on different interpretations of the facts. I now believe both sides must understand the other’s viewpoint before coming up with proposals.

I promise to write more about perceptions, communication and how to negotiate better in part 2 of this post, for now, I have a new wedding which needs my trademarked purple boxes with white chocolate shaped as two hearts with a white ribbon on top. People love this! I love weddings, very sweet!

Liz (A beginner in negotiation, but eager to learn more)

About the Author: Liz

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