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Lose the battle; Win the war

Who doesn’t love a good argument? it can be enjoyable to do, and even more entertaining to watch. how often do you find yourself taking issue with someone who says something provocative, unfair, untrue or aggressive? it is your duty to put them right – right?

they are obviously wrong, and you are so justifiably right, it is just a simple matter of pointing out the error of their ways.

the bad news is you’re probably not as good at arguing as you think you are. if you’re having to argue with them in the first place then the chances are they won’t change their mind. their mind is made up already and they will look for reasons why they are right rather than if they might be wrong. it doesn’t matter how good you may be at arguing; it is by definition a fruitless pursuit. as paulo coelho put it

“don’t waste your time with explanations. people only hear what they want to hear.”

think of any adversarial situation you like. in a debate each party is not trying to get the other to change their mind; the debate is for the benefit of the audience, to influence their thinking. in court one barrister will never get the other to change their mind, and they are not trying to. they are paid to see it the exact opposite way.

the same is true in your negotiations, but you don’t have an audience or a jury to convince.

the better constructed your argument, the more they will feel the need to put together an even stronger counter-argument.

in negotiations the chances are that it is in their interests to see it their way (and it is unlikely that their way is the same as yours, or there would be no need for a negotiation in the first place).

the simple fact is that you are unlikely to ever get them to change their mind, and the more you try, the more you will in fact make them even more entrenched in their position. they will only listen to you to try and find the flaw in your argument – the inconsistencies, the lack of rationale. so instead, try and find a solution rather than trying to beat them in the argument.

moreover, if you disagree with them you are just conditioning them to disagree with you, and this is not where you want them to be in a negotiation with you. people like to deal with like-minded people.

the act of trying to convince someone involves justifying and qualifying your claims. all this means in the context of a negotiation is that you are giving them lots of lovely information which they will only use to undermine your argument rather than agree with you. if your 9% price increase is based on one of your key commodities having risen in price by 23%, don’t bother justifying it in this way – they will only use this information against you; “aah, so if that is what you are basing it on, i see what the problem is. our analysis shows that this commodity has only risen by 15%, and we expect it to decline to a negative position by the end of the month…”. even if they do accept your argument and your price increase, what happens when this commodity goes down in price (which it will at some point)? what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

so here’s the hard bit: agree with them – or at least don’t disagree. and here’s the radical bit: listen to them to try and understand their position, not in order to simply construct your response. if you can understand their view, then you can start to understand what is important to them. that is when you can start to excercise power in negotiations. your choice then is whether to use their priorities against them, as may be appropriate in a cold negotiation (see my earlier blog about style); or to help them achieve their objectives as you should in a collaborative, warm negotiation.

employ silence, ask questions and propose solutions but never, ever argue.

“the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cock-sure and the intelligent are full of doubt”

~Bertrand Russell

Dan Hughes

He has specialised in negotiation consulting since 2005, and set up his own business in 2012 bringing this expertise to businesses small and large in all parts of the world. This company - bridge][ability ltd - runs behavioural and strategic planning negotiation skills programs which transform capabilities and has a client list which includes Tesco, The FA, Fujitsu, Capita, Reiss, Take 2 Interactive (the company behind Grand Theft Auto), BBC Worldwide and Channel 4.

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