Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't Put Emotion in Motion

Difficult negotiators often bring a lot of emotion to the table: bluster; frustration; accusations. Such behavior can make discussions inefficient and challenging (though sometimes quite entertaining). The last thing we want is for our behavior to produce more negative emotional activity.

But we often unwittingly do exactly that by not considering how our actions might impact the five core emotional concerns that drive building relationships with the other party: Affiliation, Appreciation, Autonomy, Status and Role. For example, when we act in a way that causes the other party to feel as though his/her Role or Authority has been challenged, we should be prepared for the emotional ramifications.

Suppose the other party assigns a new person, Tom, to be our sole channel of communication on all issues related to the negotiation. “What?” says Lou, the senior member of our team. “That doesn’t make any sense. I have worked directly with Kathleen for 15 years. I’m going to tell Kathleen how this will slow us down and cause us to miss the deadline.”

What are the potential outcomes if Lou goes to Kathleen to circumvent the process? One of two things will happen: Kathleen will either intervene on Lou’s behalf, or she won’t.

• If she does intervene, we will have leveraged our relationship and taken ourselves outside of the process. We also will have severely damaged our relationship with Tom by challenging his Authority and Role in the process.

• If she does not intervene, we are still in the process and we now must work with Tom in a potentially negative environment that we created.

So before we make a tactical decision to go over Tom’s head, and have Tom perceive we have no regard for his Authority and Role, we need to do some analysis about the process and the parties:

1. Who owns the process? Who set it up in the first place and how will he/she react to us challenging their Autonomy? What is the goal of having the process? Is that goal legitimate? If so, why are we challenging the process?

2. Who is Tom? What is his role in the process? Is he a decision-maker? A recommender? Or merely a facilitator? What is his Status at the company? How will our actions impact that Status if we, in effect, successfully neutralize him? Will we have to work with him again?

3. What are Kathleen’s interests in the process? If she owns the process and assigned Tom, how likely is she to remove him, or us, from the process? How good is our relationship with Kathleen? Is this the type of request that will improve our relationship with her? Or by being disruptive will we damage our Affiliation and Appreciation with Kathleen after 15 years of working together?

We can see that one tactical decision, made for what Lou believes are legitimate reasons, has many potential impacts on the five emotional concerns. A Deal Whisperer is always mindful of the potential emotional ramifications of words and actions and makes decisions that will improve the emotional health of the environment, not set the other side’s emotions in motion.

For more information on this topic, I recommend reading Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro (2005).

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