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The Forgotten Skill

Posted By Ron Sidman, Wednesday, September 11, 2019

it seems like more than ever people all over the world are struggling to resolve differences of opinion. Yet, there's a simple but powerful skill set that can often produce almost magical results - the lost art of negotiation. 


Different people always have and always will see things differently. Whether because of variations in genealogy, life experience, religion, values, income level, geography, or simply mindset, we all interpret facts and situations in our own unique ways. But we have a choice as to how to deal with this reality. We can go down the fruitless path of trying to bludgeon those we disagree with into submission, complain about others and do nothing, or learn how to maximize cooperation in a diverse world through negotiation.


Applications for Negotiation

Negotiation might be the most versatile and useful interpersonal skill you can have in your tool kit. Here are just a few common personal and business applications:

·        Buying a house, car, etc.

·        Resolving a dispute with someone from whom you’ve purchased something

·        Resolving a marital disagreement

·        Dealing with your children

·        Making a sale to a customer

·        Managing a consumer complaint

·        Selling your company or buying someone else’s

·        Dealing with difficult employees

The list is really endless. Essentially any time you don’t see eye to eye with someone or wish to persuade someone to do something they are not doing, negotiation could be your best option.


Key Negotiation Principles

Like every other topic I address in my posts, I can’t begin to cover all the bases on such a broad and complex subject in a few pages. However, I can offer a few suggestions to hopefully act as a top-level guide and stimulate your thinking. Getting what you want through negotiation is never guaranteed. But here are some things you can do to improve your odds.

1.     Understand your desired outcome and alternatives
Quite often people undermine their chances of success by plunging in half-cocked. Before you act, make sure you are clear up front about (a) what exactly the issue is, (b) what outcome you are seeking, (c) what your options are if you can’t negotiate an agreement, and (d) what the other side’s options are if they can’t reach an agreement with you. Points ‘c’ and ‘d’ should not be overlooked. You may need some leverage to encourage someone to be cooperative and you don’t want to be blind-sided by what the other side might do.   

2.     Maintain a line of communication
It should come as no surprise that you need to communicate with someone if you want to negotiate with them. Becoming emotional yourself or riling up the other side is a great way to sabotage your effort from the start by cutting off communication. You can and should be empathetic and civil with someone even if you disagree with them.

3.     Truly understand the other side’s perspective
We too quickly jump to the conclusion that those with differing opinions are just wrong or, even worse, stupid. Once you’ve established or secured a communication link, the next step is to thoroughly understand exactly what the other side’s perspective is. Do this by direct discussion with lots of open-ended questions (e.g. “Why is that important to you?”). If something doesn’t make sense to you, it’s typically not that the other side is irrational, it’s that you don’t understand them yet. Keep probing. And, be willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of aspects of their position that are valid. Setting a tone of objectivity is very important.


4.     Help them understand your perspective
Once you know where the other side is coming from, make sure you lay out in an easy to understand way how you’re looking at the situation. Be patient. Their own blind spots may make it difficult for them to understand your point of view. Stick to provable facts. Use 3rd party objective data or standards if appropriate. And, be open to modifying your view if facts presented justify it. Again, maintain an objective tone.

5.     Jointly seek a win-win resolution
Despite what some people seem to think, long-term positive results don’t come from win-lose outcomes. Better to position the situation as both sides working together to reach a mutually acceptable result. Keep lists of each side’s issues in the forefront and conduct joint brainstorming to generate possible routes to a settlement. Quite often, when people take the time to really understand each other’s wants and needs, they find previously invisible points of agreement and “concessions” acceptable to both sides. And, the fact that you reach a solution together is just as important as the solution itself.

6.      If necessary, ramp things up
Hopefully, you’re able to reach an agreement without going any further. If not, remember I mentioned earlier that you need up front to have a sense of what you can do if unable to reach a negotiated settlement. If you’re still at a stalemate, now’s the time to calmly and respectfully indicate the next steps you need to take and why. Just the prospect of what you plan to do next may be enough to push things over the line. If not, you may have to actually take action before the other side recognizes they would be better off agreeing to terms.


Negotiation isn’t a cure-all. Some differences of opinion simply can’t be resolved. But because it respects the fundamental principles of human nature, it’s a methodology that, in my experience, often produces miraculous results. Why not give this technique a try!


Next Steps

As always, if you’d like more information or assistance regarding achieving your business and life goals or you just want someone to brainstorm, vent, or commiserate with, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program by scheduling a Skype or Face Time session with me. I’d enjoy meeting you and helping you any way I can. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Reta Feldman at


Ron Sidman was the founder and CEO of The First Years, Inc. and former Vice Chairman of the JPMA Board of Directors. He is currently a  business consulting resource for JPMA members and serves on the Advisory Boards of both the Institute for Entrepreneurship and the Dean of the College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Ron is also the President of Evolutionary Success, LLC, a life and business coaching company.


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