Negotiating for what you really want (and the power of ‘help me understand’)

I recently coached a client, let’s call him Richard, who thought about resigning from his current leadership role, which he described as ‘routine and boring.’ Talking through the decision, we stumbled upon the fact that the company does, in fact, have a need for a role very much like the one Richard wishes to pursue.  By the time of our next coaching session, he had developed the business logic for creating the role – focused on developing emerging markets – and wanted to talk through the negotiation process with his boss.

Taking the specific example of Richard’s challenge, we role-played a few scenarios with a three-step process:

Step 1:  Anchor the request in business logic. 

Putting all variables on the table helps because you and your boss will value many of them differently and trade accordingly. Your boss will hopefully be interested in your personal objectives, but most likely will also be riveted by business imperatives. If anything of what you hear is unclear, ask questions to map out  (and bridge) potential gaps in perspectives.

Step 2: “Help me understand”.

Now is also the time to identify inconsistencies in the narrative of your dialog partner: “I hear that you are clearly concerned about our inability to grow in emerging markets; I also hear that you are not yet on board with this plan.  Help me understand.” Or “You have identified me as one of your high potentials, how should I interpret your hesitation to champion me as a leader for this project?”

Step 3: Wait for echo.

As your counterpart is considering the contradiction and formulating a response, do not break the silence.  Five seconds can seem torturous in a negotiation and ten seconds an eternity.  Resist the temptation to diffuse the moment of truth you have created.

Today Richard had his negotiation and made his point.  It’s not yet clear whether he will stay with the company, but either way he shared that he feels vastly better about the outcome of the process, having engaged his company as a partner in a professional, yet systematic fashion to gain clarity and move towards what he really wants.