How to resolve a difficult negotiation or harmful conflict

In my last post, I described two of our social tendencies that have the ability to create and escalate harmful conflict. 

Below are four powerful strategies we can use when conflict escalates to the point of peril and instead change course towards a mutually beneficial outcome.

  1. Offer a reasonable concession

As counter-intuitive as it may seem to many negotiators, there are few things more effective than providing a concession when trying to break out of spiraling conflict or difficult stalemate. A great example of this can be found in the detailed account of the negotiations between The United States and Iran during the Obama presidency titled “Losing an Enemy” by Trita Parisi. In his book, Parisi demonstrates how the parties broke through the consistency trap of their previous red-line demands, as well a dangerously accelerating game of Chicken:

What resolved the nuclear issue was ultimately not the pressure the two sides could bring to bear on each other, but the discarding of unreasonable and unrealistic demands – whether the American insistence on zero enrichment or the Iranian belief that it could present Washington with a nuclear fait accompli.

In this case, it was the U.S. who blinked first, deciding to play their best card up front versus holding it until the very last. This unexpected concession surprised the Iranians. They swiftly decided to reciprocate by agreeing to negotiate with the U.S. directly, itself considered an important concession. After a successful deal was finally completed in 2015 it was this chain of events that was credited for jump-starting what was widely believed to be a lost cause.

  1. Keep the communication lines open

If we are not ready to make a significant concession at the very least expressing our openness to communicate is a must. For while it is true that “active listening is the cheapest concession we can make”, it is also true that we cannot actively listen if the other party won’t talk. Similarly, we cannot expect the other party to empathize with our situation if we choose to disengage.

So how can a proactive negotiator resurrect a broken dialogue? Two methods stand out. First, we can attempt what former FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesner calls one way dialogue. As he explains in his book “Stalling For Time”, one way dialogue involves addressing potential unstated questions, concerns, and fears of the other party. (President Obama attempted a variation of this on a geopolitical scale when he released a video message to all of Iran soon after his 2009 election.) Second, we can attempt to set up a private dialogue outside of the formal setting, which the U.S. and Iran did by negotiating with each other in the country of Oman secretly in 2013. Also known as “going backstage”, this avenue can allow participants to explore the idea of being flexible without having to commit too early or posture for their internal audiences.

  1. Bring in a trusted 3rd party

If communication lines exist and reasonable concessions have yet to get the ball rolling there’s either too much animosity to focus on problem solving or not enough trust to believe that positive gestures will be reciprocated. It is at this point that a respected third party can be used to formally or informally mediate the conflict. For example, Parisi describes that when the U.S. and Iran finally decided they were ready to talk seriously their secret meeting was arranged and mediated by the Sultan of Oman, one of the few leaders in the Middle East who had a good relationship with both parties. Further, at crucial points when their negotiations were on the precipice, both parties relied on the Sultan to give verbal and written assurances that words could be trusted. It is often this very ability of a third party to provide a helpful private forum, along with additional positive assurances, that creates the momentum and oxygen needed to move forward.

  1. Create an intelligent compromise

Finally, whether one or a combination of the above strategies are employed, our most competitive and challenging negotiations will usually require significant creativity.

According to social psychologists, there are five effective ways we can generate integrative solutions leading to a mutually beneficial outcome. The first is known as “expanding the pie”, which involves creating additional value through the combination of the parties’ goals and interests. The second is called “nonspecific compensation”. This involves finding alternative ways to compensate each other for concessions that cannot be matched in the same form provided. The third is “cost cutting”. Cost cutting involves reducing the amount that a party will have to sacrifice in terms of actual dollars or perceived risk. The fourth is called “logrolling”, which involves taking the specific demands of each party and evaluating what trades can be made based on how differently they are valued. (A common example is one party agreeing to pay a higher price if the other will provide more generous terms.) Finally, the fifth is called “bridging”, where the underlying interests of each party are satisfyingly addressed via an outcome that is different from their original demands. Interestingly, most if not all of these creative forms of problem solving can be found in Parisi’s account of the negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.

CONCLUSION:

“The Negotiator who suffers from myopia will fix on his or her objective and assume that there is only one alternative for getting there. The more skilled negotiator will be able to discern the connection, complex though it may be, between some new alternative and the objective which they seek.” Walton & McKersie

The beauty of each of the four strategies above is they all have the potential to provide a face-saving off ramp when on a dangerous path of escalation or stalemate. However, one party will usually have to take the lead in getting things started, implementing one or more of the various strategies in a trial and error format that will test our grit and determination. Fortunately, where there is a persistent and creative will, there often is a way.

3 things we can learn from the 2 trillion dollar stimulus negotiation

Late last week, the U.S. government successfully negotiated a historic stimulus plan while under great pressure to help mitigate the economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A noteworthy outcome for many reasons, it was especially so when considering the dynamic and fast-moving conditions in which two highly adversarial parties had to come together and reach agreement.

Here are three things I believe we can learn from the negotiation:

Create the proper environment

One reason the negotiation was successful is that careful thought was given to who would lead the negotiations for each side.

For example, when negotiations began between the White House and House of Representatives, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took the lead on behalf of the White House while House leader Nancy Pelosi took the lead for the Democrats.

This was effective for two reasons. First, the post impeachment fallout prevented the possibility of direct negotiations between Nancy Pelosi and President Trump, as the two have not exchanged words since their contentious meeting last October. Second, Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin have an established track record of success working together on important negotiations, such as the initial coronavirus relief bill, and debt-ceiling negotiations last summer.

The lesson to be taken here is the importance of creating the best environment for our negotiations to thrive. The goal should be to create a face saving environment, where negotiators who’ve proven the ability to stay rational and bring positive versus negative relational baggage into the interaction are the ones sitting across the table.

Be prepared for a rocky ride

Throughout negotiation there were a number of inflection points when new demands were made, dramatic threats were issued, and breakdowns seemed likely.

For example, days after Nancy Pelosi negotiated terms with Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the House, Senate Republicans revised the legislation with terms that were greatly in their favor. Days later, Senate Democrats successful played hard-ball, creating an impasse to secure concessions on items they considered non-negotiable. And even after the final night of negotiations, a lone representative attempted to prevent the planned vote from happening, throwing Congress into a last minute scramble. Luckily, negotiators from both sides were able to stay focused on the end goal, continuously reverting back to problem solving each time curveballs appeared.

The lesson to be taken is to embrace the process, especially in regards to the posturing and power plays that invariably occur. Likewise, realizing that oftentimes for negotiators to persuade their constituents to accept an outcome – or to accept it themselves – they have to feel they’ve made a stand. Don’t get rattled by this ritual. Control your emotions, and never be surprised by last minute tactics to bulldoze, they’re often the norm.

Be flexible, yet firm

Finally, both sides were able to come to terms because each took a pragmatic approach, putting down their foot when needed while easing back when they were pushing the limit.

For example, after Republicans tried to renegotiate better terms for their side, Nancy Pelosi conveyed that the new terms were simply unacceptable for the Democrats, vividly and matter of factly telling Republican negotiators, “the two animals couldn’t mate.” Yet in the end, Democrats accepted enough of the newly proposed terms to ensure that a bill that included their priorities would be unanimously passed and swiftly signed by President Trump.

The lesson here is finding the right balance. Many negotiations will call for a more firmness, while some will call for more flexibility. Some will even call for us to walk away, an option that’s far more available in everyday negotiations than it was for Congress. However, as author and researcher Adam Grant pointed out in his recent NY Times article titled “In Negotiations, Givers Are Smarter Than Takers”, collaborative negotiators who use their intelligence more than their toughness tend to create better outcomes for both parties. The key then, perhaps, is to be firm yet intelligently flexible, providing ourselves with the best opportunity to discover whatever it takes for “the animals to mate”.

Heather Monahan on Sales, Negotiation, and Leadership

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at sales? 

Don’t take a no from someone who cannot give you a yes.

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at negotiation?

The person with the least amount of attachment to the outcome will win. There will always be another deal, don’t be desperate.

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at leadership? 

Leadership is not given it is earned. Be the person that others want to follow. That is the person that is focused on solutions, focused on elevating others and focused on encouragement and innovation. Take chances, break things, celebrate the process.

Is there anything else you would like to share on the topics of Sales, Negotiation, or Leadership?

Confidence is the epicenter of all three of these! In any moment you are either creating confidence or chipping away at it. The choice is yours.

For more on Heather Monahan please visit her website at https://heathermonahan.com/

Her Creating Confidence Podcast can be found at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/creating-confidence-with-heather-monahan/id1462192400

Five years ago today I became a Sales Manager. Here are 3 things I’ve learned…

Love your people.

Always avoid taking yourself too seriously and never rely on your title for influence. Be yourself, let your guard down, and focus first on connecting with your people, even if it means being silly or putting work aside for a brief moment. It’s a simple truth that people don’t care how much you know – or that they might need to improve – until they know how much you care. Just like any important relationship, make sure to tell them as often as possible.

Choose your battles.

As much we might want control, we have to trust our people and allow space for their creativity to shine. Never believe your way is the only way to succeed just because it is how you succeeded. Gary V posted recently about not micro-managing and he is so spot on – at the end of the day, we don’t really know that something someone wants to try or how they want to approach a problem would or would not work. Another philosophy that has helped keep my ego in check is Marshall Goldsmith’s AIWATT acronym: Am I willing, at this time, to truly invest the time it will take to make a positive impact on this situation? Many times when I’ve stopped to ask this powerful question the answer is no. Holding back my immediate urge to fix or chime in has saved me countless times from damaging a relationship or losing credibility as a leader.

Keep holding yourself to a higher standard.

Finally, remember that as much as you may have an impact as a leader, coach, mentor, or manager, also remember you can always get better. Take a hard look at how many of your people are taking the time to send you thank you notes, emails, or texts about how much you’ve helped them. Strive to be so great and give so much of your all to every interaction that people feel compelled to let you know how much of an impact you’ve made. In the end, how great you are is based not on your opinion, or even your business results, but the inspiration you create in the people you lead to do more than they believed they could do.

John F. Kennedy – Negotiating Towards Peace

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

When John F. Kennedy took the podium in to deliver his inaugural address in January 1961, he did so in the context of a country on the precipice of its largest direct conflict with the Soviet Union since the beginning of the Cold War.

The dominant position held by the United States during the 1950s, due to uncontested military supremacy afforded by their nuclear advantage was now beginning to decline. Kennedy himself campaigned on the fear that the Soviet Union had reached or surpassed the ability of the United States to decimate its enemy, as well as the growing threat of communism as a political force globally, spreading in countries as large as China and near as Cuba.

However, Kennedy’s prescription was not an escalation of the arms race, nor did he view isolation on the part of the United States as a means to achieve safety. Instead, Kennedy strongly believed that negotiating with the Soviet Union as a means to halt increasingly competitive nuclear weapons tests would be an important first step towards an all important end ultimate goal – keeping additional countries from obtaining nuclear weapons that could destroy humanity.

“You have offered us an apple for an orchard. We don’t do that in this country.”

One of Kennedy’s first challenges as president was managing the long standing and turbulent Berlin crisis.

From the end of the World War II through the beginning of his presidency, Berlin had remained divided among the United States, Britain, France and Soviet Union, with each party refusing to leave out of fear that a unified Germany might irreparably swing the future balance of Europe towards either democracy or communism.

The quote above was stated by Kennedy during an oval office meeting with the Soviet Ambassador to the United States while heated negotiations over the Berlin Crisis continued in the fall of 1961. The “apple” Kennedy was referring to was a guarantee on the part of the Soviet Union and East Germany to continue to allow access to West Berlin, which Soviet Chairman Krushchev was threatening to remove if Kennedy did not meet his “orchard” of demands. These demands included an agreement that would legitimize the communist government in Eastern Germany, as well as a rollback of military forces that kept the Soviet Union from expanding its own presence in Europe.

Little did they know that just one year later they would be thrust in to negotiations over new and potentially more dangerous apples and orchards during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world held on for thirteen days in October 1962 as the United States and Soviet Union attempted to avoid the unthinkable.

“So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

While Kennedy negotiated his way through two perilous sparks in Berlin and Cuban, he continued to stay vigilant in his desire to find agreement with the Soviet Union to prevent continued testing of more powerful and destructive nuclear weapons.

Despite numerous breakdowns during negotiations, a resumption of the testing by the Soviet Union during the Berlin Crisis, as well as subsequent lies about strategic missiles in Cuba, Kennedy continued to maintain dialogue both publicly and privately with Krushchev, in the hopes of swaying him towards a mutually beneficial treaty that could stem their recent atomic accelerations.

But in addition to managing the impressions of the Soviets internally in a way to keep them at the bargaining table, Kennedy needed to press publicly for a test ban treaty without giving his own political rivals an opportunity to attack him for being weak on communism. He was able to manage this balance brilliantly in a commencement address at American University in June 1963 (quoted above).

Just months after what came to be known as the “peace speech”, his lead negotiator in Moscow was able to seal the deal on a historic US-Soviet treaty, prohibiting further harmful nuclear testing in the atmosphere and marking an incredible triumph of President Kennedy’s leadership towards negotiating a safer future.

Shane Ray Martin on Sales, Negotiation, and Leadership

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would recommend for someone looking to improve at sales?

Teach, Don’t Sell.

When we SELL, we break rapport. When we TEACH, we build rapport. With more rapport, there often is less resistance.


(From: The Ultimate Sales Machine, by Chet Holmes)

What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would share with someone looking to improve at negotiation?

Practice infinite empathy.

Maximize your outcomes by doing these 3 things:

  • Let go of judgment – Step into your counterpart’s shoes.
  • Listen actively – Speak less, listen more.
  • Leave people better – Clear next steps to serve your counter-part.


What’s one quick tip or piece of advice you would share with someone looking to improve at leadership?

The more you give to others, the more you’ll get from them.


(From: The Go-Giver, Bob Berg)

For more on Shane Ray Martin please visit his website at https://www.shaneraymartin.com/

On LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shane-ray-martin/

Bob Iger’s Two Minute Master Class on Negotiation

Recently, Disney CEO Bob Iger was interviewed on the Tim Ferris podcast, going further in depth on the lessons and wisdom shared in his best-selling 2019 business memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime”.

While the interview touched on a number of interesting topics (So great to learn that Mr. Iger is a fellow Pizza connoisseur!), his two minute monologue on what makes a successful negotiator is especially noteworthy since one might consider him the greatest business negotiator of our time, having negotiated a number of billion-dollar brand acquisitions, ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to Star Wars.

Though I highly recommend listening to the entire interview, I felt motivated to share his answer transcribed in full, as I believe it’s impressively insightful for an off the cuff response –

Ferris: 

What in your mind separates the A players from the B players from a negotiation standpoint?

Iger: 

Well, I think first of all, the thing that sets a good negotiator apart from a bad negotiator is one that gets a deal done. It starts there, in a way that I think is satisfactory to both sides. I’ve always been a big believer, and this is sort of cliche, but you know, negotiation should work both ways, the buyer and the seller should come away both feeling good about it, or maybe both not feeling good about it, I’m not sure.

But I happen to believe that a good negotiation is one that is conducted efficiently and effectively. I don’t think it’s something that should be necessarily protracted, as it takes a lot of time and energy. It should be one where the value that is seen by the buyer is delivered by the transaction, which means that the price and the circumstances ought to in some form or another conform to the value proposition, that’s really important. 

I like being very honest. I like getting to the heart of negotiation fairly quickly. I like putting my cards on the table instead of keeping them completely close to one’s vest. There are times though in a negotiation where I’ve found you do have to get up and walk away from the table if the terms that you’re looking at just don’t make sense, and being willing to lose a deal if you can’t get the right terms. I’ve done that a number of times.

That’s I think just good honest negotiating. I don’t approach negotiations with the need to win, I approach them with a desire to close a deal. I guess winning, that certainly contributes to winning, closing a deal, but when I mean winning I mean winning on all points, on all terms, etc. It’s not that necessary to me.

The above is truly the tip of the iceberg in regards to the thoughts he shares on deal-making, leadership, emotional discipline, and much more.

Full interview can be found here –

https://tim.blog/tag/bob-iger/