The heartful negotiator – part 1

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RAVI VENKATESAN provides practical tips on negotiation in business relationships and in life.


Beyond the head


The very word ‘negotiation’ evokes an allergic reaction in most of us. It brings up ideas of confrontation, argument and debate. We often fear loss while going into a negotiation, and feel anger at being taken advantage of while coming out of a negotiation.

Some of us are on the other side of the spectrum: we love to debate and argue. We believe we win every negotiation, and get the best outcomes. On both sides of this spectrum, we feel that negotiations are like a tug of war. There is always a winner and a loser.

We mostly think about negotiations as high stakes exercises, like countries at war negotiating terms of peace or companies negotiating terms of a merger. In reality, we are all negotiating all the time. We may be negotiating with a co-worker on where to eat lunch, or negotiating with our spouse on what movie to watch, or negotiating with the kids on how much television they are allowed to watch.

As a young executive out of business school, I used to enjoy hard negotiations. I would use every tactic in the book to eke out an advantage. My favorite techniques came from books like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene etc. These books taught me to play games, hide information, hide my real intentions, and be devious in gaining an advantage.

A few years in the business world taught me that winning one-off negotiations at the cost of relationships was not smart. I needed to negotiate win-win outcomes for both parties. I needed a way to turn an adversary into a partner. I started reading a new set of books, and my favorites now came from the Harvard Negotiation Project: Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and Willam Ury, Beyond Reason by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, and Getting Together by Roger Fisher and Scott Brown. These books taught me how to negotiate win-win outcomes while building relationships.

As I continued my search for the ideal way to negotiate, I realized that we focus mostly on the head, which is the seat of logic and reason, and not enough on the heart, which is the seat of feelings and emotions. We also don’t pay attention to what our egos are doing in spite of ourselves. My learnings from Heartfulness led me to a different approach. This was to go beyond the head and use the heart. The head still plays a role with logic and reason, but the heart leads with what is right, ethical and sustainable. It is a natural and simple approach, and yet generates the best outcomes for all parties involved. It also eliminated the need to play games, indulge in deception, hide my real agenda, and instead let me be courageously authentic through the entire process.

I would like to share this approach with you through this series of articles. Practicing these will make you a Heartful Negotiator. If you are looking for techniques that let you gain advantage at the cost of others, then this series is not for you, but if you would like to negotiate a win for you and others, then read on.

The first step towards being a Heartful Negotiator is to develop 360-degree awareness of the subtle aspects of our heads and hearts, which are at play when two individuals negotiate. These are aspects beneath the ‘surface’ that influence the way negotiations flow. In later articles, we’ll expand on each of these aspects and how to manage them. As with learning any new skill, such as riding a bike or driving a car, you will initially feel that there are many things to keep track of, however, as you practice, these things will become second nature to you, and will come into play naturally and effortlessly.

Let us take the heart and mind as a vibrational field (see the figure) where feelings and emotions on one hand, and thoughts and ideas on the other hand, are constantly surfacing. Let’s look at these in three buckets:

Prior disposition
Feelings & emotions in the heart
Thoughts & ideas in the head



Prior disposition:


Likes and dislikes – Each person has their set of likes and dislikes that influence the negotiation. For example, I may like pizza, and having pizza for lunch puts me in a more amicable frame of mind. You may dislike formal settings, so a business conference room full of people in suits may make you close up and be inflexible.

Worries and concerns – Each person has their own set of things they are concerned or worried about. Not being able to get a raise may mean that I lose face with my peers. Not getting the new house within our budget may leave us with no money to furnish it for a couple of years.

Desires – Each person’s desires are constantly informing and influencing their posture. I may desire the social status that a promotion brings more than a raise. This makes me willing to negotiate a lower raise to get a promotion.



Feelings and emotions in the heart:


There are opposing feelings and emotions at play in the heart. Throughout the negotiation process, the balance between these keeps shifting. Managing this can unlock a tremendous ability to navigate to the best outcomes. These oppositions include:

Greed versus Contentment
Peace and Relaxation versus Restlessness
Empathy, Love and Compassion versus Anger, Hate and Disgust
Fear, Anxiety and Nervousness versus Courage and Confidence
Feeling of clarity versus Feeling of doubt and uncertainty


 Thoughts and ideas in the head:


Just as our heart cannot stop feeling, our mind cannot stop thinking. The thoughts and ideas that fill it up are equally important to understand and manage.

Ego perception – my perception of me versus you.
Intellect logic and reason driven thoughts based on applying my intellect.
Mind wanderings – ad hoc ideas that are generated by my mind, and other mental distractions.

To understand the interplay of all these, try the following role play with a friend:

Scenario

You and your friend meet for lunch to discuss a joint family vacation. You generally like going to the mountains, and your friend always goes to the beach, so you know that the destination is going to be a point of debate. She also has a tendency to say, “My spouse would prefer to do ______,” and deflect the conversation. You intend to counter this by calling her out, and getting to a decision.



Before the role play, both of you should spend some time in writing down a few bullets about your prior disposition based on the list above. As you start discussing ideas about where you could go for a join family vacation, pay attention to the feelings and emotions in your heart based on the list above. Also note the ego perception you have about yourself versus your friend. Note any logical reasoning you adopt to make points and counter points. Note cases where your mind is distracted or wanders, or generates other relevant or irrelevant ideas as you go through this conversation.

After the role play, share your notes and observations with each other. This will provide you insight into how much is happening beneath the surface, for even a simple negotiation like this. In subsequent articles, we will take a look at how to manage each of these aspects, and become a Heartful Negotiator. Our goal is to let our heart lead our head, and have both work together to generate the best outcomes.



Article by RAVI VENKATESAN


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