Theresa May has been struggling to gain control of Brexit after mass political mutinies. We asked leading mediator and conflict specialist Louisa Weinstein to give the PM (and us) some tips on how to get what you want in tough negotiations
Theresa May seems to be being pushed from pillar to post on her Brexit negotiations. However, as we have seen, negotiations are often multi-faceted.
The reality is that things don’t always appear as they seem and we often get distracted from the bigger picture by the drama of the day.
Whether you are negotiating a salary rise, Brexit or something in between, these five steps will help you develop and implement a strategy to get what you want and respond to the complexities of what life throws at you along the way.
1. Clarity is everything: get clear on what you want and need
What we want and what we need are sometimes not the same thing. Sometimes we have to compromise what we want for what we need. For example we may want chocolate but we may need to reduce our sugar levels.
Theresa May might want to be perceived as a strong leader and please all or at least some of her party members at the same time. She may feel she needs to get what she anticipates to be a workable deal done with Europe which will require a series of internal and external compromises. Although one might be dependent on another, she may need to go for the lesser of two evils (looking weak) to achieve what she needs (a deal).
We may want to be liked but we may need to risk upsetting others in order to achieve our goals.
In our own negotiations, we may want, for example, the stability that staying in a current job provides but we may need a salary rise. Equally, we may want to be liked but we may need to risk upsetting others in order to achieve our goals. In choosing what we want and need and prioritising those two things we start to form a clear direction or way forward which ultimately gets us closer to what we truly want.
2. Work out your top and bottom Lines
In simple terms, this means getting clear on your “top line” meaning your ideal outcome and your “bottom-line” meaning the worst acceptable outcome. They may be the same thing or there may be a range between both. Crucial to establishing our own top and bottom lines is to challenge yourself by asking yourself questions like “If I was offered XYX then what would I do…”.
After you have completed this exercise of establishing your bottom lines, you need to be confident that if you are offered below your bottom line and you don’t accept it you won’t regret it. This isn’t about compromising yourself. Rather it is about ensuring that you don’t sabotage your success by walking away from a deal that is not ideal but better than no deal.
You may need to establish top and bottom lines on a number of issues. It is crucial to be clear on all of these issues. You will then need to see which issues take priority over the others as this will form a key part of your overall top and bottom lines.
When you have established your own bottom lines, you can then start to anticipate what the other party or parties’ top and bottom lines are. The clearer you can get on these, the easier it will be to promote your agenda but also to establish the room for negotiation between you.
3. Choose your response and stay in control
We have a number of choices in terms of style and approach when we enter into a negotiation. When we adopt a style, we need to be careful that it is not a reactive approach but rather one that is suitable and appropriate for the situation in which we find ourselves. In this way we are more likely to stay in control of our own behaviours, reactions and the situation itself.
Generally, there are five typical responses to conflict. Each response we choose to take will have consequences or side effects. Equally, we will need to understand and be strategic about how we deal with the response the other person takes to ensure it leads us towards not away from getting what we want and need. Typically the responses are:
There are 5 typical responses to conflict
- Accommodating: We may give other people what they want on certain issues so that we get what we want and need on other issues. Often when other people are accommodating with us, we are happy about it but we still need to check that they don’t accommodate and agree with us only to undermine us later. This is what seems to have happened following Theresa May’s Cabinet meeting.
- Avoiding: Sometimes we need to go away and think about something or take advice. It can look as if we are not dealing with the issue but can buy us time to take a strategic measured approach…Is that what Boris is doing?
- Collaborating: This involves an in depth set of conversation to establish what each party wants and needs. In a complex business negotiation where the parties want a continuing relationship, it can be a really fruitful, creative process. However, it is unlikely to be an approach taken in this current political environment which seems more about backstabbing at its worst and market trading at its best and may be too time consuming in a negotiation such as Brexit with so many moving parts.
- Competing: This is Donald Trump’s forte. It involves going for what you want hell for leather until you get it. Many negotiators who employ this response feel that they are doing it for the common good. It often achieves results but the fallout may be alienating others.
- Compromising: This has become almost a dirty word in Brexit but is the reality of this type of negotiation. It involves a mixture of all the other responses and, albeit a more “quick and nasty” response, is one that can get a deal done quickly
It is important not to be attached to one kind of response but to work out which one will be most effective in the circumstances to achieving your goals.
4. Get the most out of the other person
Counter intuitively, one of the keys to getting what you want is to understanding who you are negotiating with and what they want and need. The more you can work to get them what they want without compromising what you want, the better position you are in. The way to do this is:
- Ask them open questions about their negotiating position. You will use questions like “what do you want”, “how do you see that happening”. When you do this, you need to withhold judgement albeit temporarily to help ensure that they are as forthcoming as possible with the full depth and breadth of their position.
- Listen to what they say actively. This means reflecting back or summarising and paraphrasing what you have heard and understood. When you do this you need to be open for them to correct you and to get it wrong so you get underneath what they are saying. When we do this, we often understand their position better and are better equipped to see the bigger picture and the room for agreement that may open up.
- Tell them where you stand on the issues and what you want and need.
When you have taken all these steps, repeat the process of asking but this time asking them what they think of your position and be prepared to listen again. If you repeat this pattern, the position of all the parties start to become clearer. When this happens, you can become clearer on whether and where there is scope for agreement.
5. Keep the end point in mind
Negotiations are a process and they can take time. As we have seen with Brexit this can be frustrating and triggers a counter-productive response in us. The referendum made us believe that we could be “in” or “out” but negotiations are never that black or white.
When reality starts to hit and things are not a clear cut as we hoped or expected, our pride, shame, fear and other ego-driven and frankly unhelpful responses can start to take over. We start becoming fearful that we have got it wrong, embarrassed by other people’s views of us and we can start to over compensate. The effect of this may be that we move away from our strategy and, for example give others what they have asked for without standing up for ourselves or becoming over aggressive.
Instead, we need to ride the wave, acknowledge that circumstances and indeed, our position may or may not need to change and keep coming back to adjusting our strategy to achieve what we want and/or need.
Remember, negotiations are a process and they can take time – they are never that black or white.
The biggest challenge of negotiating the soap opera that has become Brexit, in a political and indeed democratic environment is twofold. A negotiator needs to keep their cards close to their chest and be prepared to be unpopular, whilst a politician is expected to be open, transparent and, of course, look good. Theresa May could achieve a Brexit deal but she may be unpopular as a result. Whether she is successful will depend on what she wanted in the first place.
For the rest of us, the message is simple, if we want to get what we want, we need to know what it is, stick to a plan and stay flexible. In any negotiation something will have to give but the better focussed and the more lithe we remain, the more likely we are to get what we want.
Louisa Weinstein is an experienced mediator and the author of The 7 Principles of Conflict Resolution, out now, priced £21.99.