Getting to Yes: The Irrefutable Guide to Empathetic Negotiation

Andrew James Walls
Jun 29, 2018 · 5 min read

We all negotiate every day. Whether it’s with our spouses about household chores, or at work over subtle power imbalances on projects.

Rather than thinking of negotiation as a one-off activity we occasionally, regrettably engage in. Think of it as an ongoing process of negotiating the chasm between others goals and your own.

The purpose of this article is to normalize the skill of negotiation. To the point that you see it as a welcome, attention worthy part of your every day life. It’s also a more comprehensive write-up of 1 of the “The 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs to Develop” and it’s follow-up which showcases a tool anyone can use to measure their level of competency in the 10 core skills.

Negotiation as an Art Form

Organizations are gradually becoming more Teal. This is good. It means happier, more productive citizens of the world. It also means effective interpersonal communication is more crucial to organizational and personal success than it’s ever been.

People don’t obey rigid hierarchies anymore, and are expected to navigate their roles terrain both within their organization and with external partners. All of these people can be considered “agents” each of whom have their own wishes, desires, thoughts, and beliefs.

Effective negotiators know how to empathize with these folks, quickly understand their desired outcome from some scenario (status, security etc) and help to create a situation of mutual benefit where both agents meet their objectives.

Positional Versus Principled Negotiation

This can be a subtle craft. For example imagine you’re getting a new job and negotiating for your salary. How do you handle this situation? Do you discuss past achievements? Or perhaps set an ultimatum — meet my demands or I walk? These are both fixed positions — and are the trademarks of “positional negotiators” who bend this way and that depending on the circumstances.

Someone who is an adept negotiator won’t approach with any fixed position but instead with a set of “principles”. Principled negotation doesn’t see negotiation as a zero-sum game. Where if you get your raise, the boss loses out on getting a good deal.

Instead negotiation is framed around “mutual benefit through principle or values alignment.” Key to this process is empathy. Ask the boss, what do people in my situation normally get paid? What benefit packages are normally offered? Explain your life beyond work, and financial needs. Perhaps it’s not really the raise you’d prefer but a day working from home so you see you kids more. Or an extra week of vacation. Maybe your boss has certain salary limits they can’t break, but has other incentives they can offer you.

The key is communication values and objectives openly, and honestly, and being willing to negotiate your way to a fair middle ground.

Separate the People From the Problem

If we visualize negotiation, it’s easy to imagine two parties squaring off across a formidable table, playing a verbal game of RISK, as they thrust and parry their way to concessions from each other until one breaks or vacates the bargaining table.

This confrontational, winner-take-all scenario hardly represents the constant, minor negotiations of real life where tired, often stressed people just try to make things work.

Let’s imagine negotiation instead as both parties side by side squaring off against a thorny problem — and working together to solve it. Both parties asking questions, engaging in honest dialogue, and proposing and negotiating solutions until everyone is satisfied.

This often requires creativity, and it’s tempting to engage in the prisoners dilemma — and assume they’re trying to cheat you. Therefore you must cheat them first, so at the very worst you’re even in that you’ve both been cheated.

Modern industry is regulated on a foundation of trust. Bad suppliers, manufacturers, or customers don’t get repeat business. Get a reputation for dishonesty, and become the black sheep whose out of business.

To build a movement (startup, firm, social venture etc) that lasts, you need to cultivate a reputation for honesty, and fairness in all you’re dealings — and empathetic, principle based negotiation is how that’s done.

To sum up this article:

  1. Negotiation is 1 of 10 skills everyone should learn and cultivate.
  2. Flatter organizations put the onus of communication on the employee, not the system.
  3. Communication involving goals that appear conflicting, require negotiation to resolve. (imagine two converging paths people are walking on, and negotiation as the process of aligning those paths for the duration of the time they’re walking together).
  4. Effective negotiators operate from principle (what I believe in) not position (where I happen to be right now).
  5. Frame negotiation as a partnership that solves a problem you’re both faced with.
  6. The foundation of negotiation is trust, which can only be built over time through trustworthy and fair dealings with everyone.

More Reading on the Subject:

Want more? Visit my blog Lead Boldly for more articles on Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Design. Or join 10 Story, a weekly dose of my best articles and podcasts. Please consider supporting my Patreon. My dream is to be able to work full-time writing articles like this for you.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 339,876+ people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +502K people. Follow to join our community.

Andrew James Walls

Written by

MDes at OCAD University | Quora Top Writer 2018 | Founder, Boardroom Labs |

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +502K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade