The second of the two presentations at the professional development conference I attended last week (you can read about the first one, “recession-proofing your personal relationships,” here) was on negotiating. Now, the conference was sponsored by a woman’s professional organization, so that’s what the focus (and most of the supporting anecdotes) was on, but I think there’s value in it regardless of your gender.
“Hard” versus “Soft” Negotiating
This is one of the core principles of the well-known book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Essentially, hard negotiation (often called competitive negotiation) is about using whatever means necessary to get whatever it is that you want. Soft negotiation (often called integrative or cooperative negotiation) is about maximizing both parties’ returns – even if it means giving up something that you really want.
Getting to Yes argues in favor of what they call “principled negotiation,” which is a combination of the two – you fight really hard for the things that are the most important to you, but then become not only willing, but proactive about giving up other things in order to get what you really want and, significantly, provide the other party with what they really want. However, other communications scholars think of this as the definition of soft negotiation, so there’s some wiggle room there.
Negotiating and Gender
As you might imagine, hard negotiation is generally perceived as masculine and soft negotiation is generally perceived as feminine. In actuality, they’re both just strategies that anyone can choose to employ at any time. However, what is worth noting is that when women use hard negotiation strategies (regardless of the gender of the person(s) they are negotiating with) they are almost always perceived of as unlikeable. The same is not true for men, who can employ either strategy with much less worry about whether people will like them less – at least in workplace interactions. But what about personal relationships?
Negotiating and Relationships
There’s a passionate exchange going on over at EMK’s latest blog entry, Dating Advice that Might Make You Mad. Evan, whose blog mainly caters to a female audience, essentially advocates soft negotiation strategies (although he doesn’t call it this) when dealing with romantic relationships:
- Be flexible in your dating criteria
- Be what the other person is looking for
- Make the other person feel good
Many folks have a strong negative reaction to this – essentially, I want what I want, and am willing to get it at any cost. However, because hard negotiation tactics create a “winner” and a “loser,” they tend to breed resentment that lasts long after whatever the issue was has been “concluded.” This is one reason why anytime you are going to have to have dealings with the person after the issue has been settled (so, if you’re being hired into a new position or if you’re dating someone hoping for a LTR) then soft negotiation is the better bet. Hard negotiation should then be reserved for interactions where you will not be interacting with the other party after the negotiation is complete (say, buying a car).
Downsides to Soft Negotiation
Note that soft negotiation does not require that you give up the things that are most important to you. Instead, it is about looking at the whole picture and trying to identify creative ways for all parties to get the things that are the most important to them.
However, in order for a system like that to work, both parties must be aware that the negotiation is a soft one and be forthcoming about the things they are willing to sacrifice in order to reach a successful conclusion. It also means that, regardless of what your non-negotiable criteria are, the tone of the exchange should be polite, respectful, and optimistic that a mutually agreeable result is possible.
If one party in the exchange is using soft tactics and the other is using hard tactics, all too often what happens is that the soft negotiator ends up ceding everything that they’re willing to cede and not getting anything in return. I think this is one of the reasons that lots of Evan’s female readers are taking the hard tack with him right now – many of them spent years as soft negotiators getting taken advantage of by hard negotiators, and the solution that they’ve chosen is to become hard negotiators themselves. While an understandable reaction, this is not going to get them the best returns, as he points out.
Be In Control – Graciously, Gratefully, and and Gracefully
It seems to me that a better solution is to make the guidelines of such negotiations clear – set parameters for the exchange in advance that both parties agree to abide by, and also set a walk-away point. This means deciding in advance at what point it will be obvious that you will never get what you want/need from the exchange, and leaving once that point is reached.
A huge mistake that tons of people make is not deciding what that point is in advance – this leads to us staying in negative situations far longer than is good for us, which can have lots of negative effects, including complete unraveling of the civility of that particular negotiation (in the short term) and bitterness/apathy about ever engaging in the negotiation process again (in the long term).
If you’ve determined in advance what your walking-away point is, then you’re less likely to have to make that determination when negative emotions are clouding your judgment – you can keep the tone of the exchange positive right up until the moment that you say, “you know, I don’t think there’s a way for us to both get what we need out of this,” and end the exchange gracefully.
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