Do you know the story of the 17 camels? A man left his three sons 17 camels when he died. The eldest son received half of the camels, the middle son got one-third of the camels and the youngest son received one-ninth. But what to do? There were 17 camels and they couldn’t be divided. Stumped, eventually the sons sought the advice of the village wise man. The old man thought about it for a moment and then suggested a very creative solution: he offered one of his camels, bringing the number to 18. With that, the camels could be divvied up: half, or nine, went to the oldest. One-third of 18, or six, went to the middle son, and one-ninth, or two, went to the youngest. In total, 17 camels, with one to spare. The sons went home happy and the old man got his camel back.
The good negotiator must always look for creative solutions to conflicts, and the skills of mediation are always useful to resolve stalled situations at work.
“Negotiating is a skill that every manager needs to master, not only because it can help to solve problems and create value, but because thwarted negotiations undermine value, sap morale, waste resources and even escalate into greater conflict,” writes IESE Prof. Kandarp Metha.
For Every Obstacle, a Negotiating Technique
- Understand the other side’s interests. To begin, you must banish confrontation and find out what the other side really wants. At this stage, it is crucial to exchange information and, above all, to know how to interpret it. It is also useful to pay close attention to the signals the other side is sending through their behaviors.
- Know their strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself: What can the other side gain if I achieve my objectives? and, Why would they say no to my proposals? These are very useful questions in order to focus on the potential sticking points. They help to identify the weaknesses of our positions and the strengths of the positions of the other side.
- Identify leaders and push for compromise. All negotiating tables need a leading voice. Better said, two. One from each side of the table. These individuals, with decision-making and leadership abilities, are the ones in charge of setting goals and deadlines. The less time wasted, the better. For this reason, from the beginning, clarify ambiguous moves and seek compromise.
- Control emotions. Emotions are always poor counsel. They undermine objectivity and rationality in negotiations, and limit our perspective and ways for solving dilemmas. It’s better to set our emotions aside when we sit down to negotiate, but at the same time don’t underestimate the emotional concerns of the other side. Sometimes, they can be the motor behind their actions.
- Come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Julius Caesar’s famous “divide and conquer” strategy is one that is doomed to failure in resolving modern-day business conflicts. Accept it: Reaching a deal benefits both sides. No negotiator will accept an agreement that they think is worse than what they have.
- Seal an agreement that feels honorable. Achieving an agreement that is fair to all sides is as important, or even more so, than reaching an economic agreement. On this point it is necessary to jointly evaluate the risk of not reaching agreement and pursuing mutually beneficial options. It’s never a bad idea to make small concessions throughout the negotiating process.
IESE’s focused program “High Performance Negotiator” is an intense learning experience that empowers senior managers to become better negotiators. Don’t miss the next edition at IESE’s Barcelona campus on July 1-3, 2019.
Mehta, K.; Ripol, I. “5 Ways Managers Can Enhance Their Mediating Skills. The Mediator Mindset” IESE Insight Review, Issue 34, Third Quarter 2017, pp. 53-58.
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