How to get what you really want

Roger Trapp reviews a new book that advocates a little give and take as the key to successful negotiations
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The Independent Culture
Imagine you are negotiating a commercial lease with a tenant and he insists on including the phrase "time is of the essence" in the document. The concession is of no consequence to you. What do you do? Or how about this situation? You have a boss who is a bully. He seldom has a word of praise for you and becomes very angry if you make the slightest mistake. What do you do?

Many will find the answers to such situations obvious - depending on whether they tend to a confrontational turn of mind or are more inclined to go with the flow.

But, according to negotiating expert Gavin Kennedy, the obvious answer is not always the route to success.

Take the first situation. Some people would automatically include the phrase on the grounds that it does not matter. Kennedy says no. Just because something is of only limited importance to you does not mean that it is of no importance to the other person. "If he wants it, he values it and how much he values it - compared to you - is of singular importance to you," he says.

But grudgingly including it is not, according to Kennedy, the right way either. Someone in that situation should not include something without trading it for something else.

Kennedy's approach would be to wait and see how important the phrase was for the tenant - on the grounds that the key issue is not how important it is to you but how much it is worth to the other side and hence what he is prepared to trade for it.

Similarly, in the second case, many people would suggest letting the boss know how he upsets you or else just try to placate him and therefore keep out of trouble. Kennedy recommends neither what he regards as a solution favoured by "tree huggers" nor "keeping your head down". The former has little benefit other than making you feel better at the time, while the latter is a stance that is difficult to maintain. Instead, he says, the bullying should be ignored and not be allowed to affect what you do.

The behaviour that Kennedy, a professor at Edinburgh Business School and author of the just-published book The New Negotiating Edge, advocates comes under a style that he terms "purple". This is because it is a blend of the red style traditionally associated with tough negotiators and the blue style favoured by principled types who see rational problem-solving as the way to achieve "win-win" solutions.

Kennedy saw the need for a different approach because the red style, by assuming that negotiation is all about manipulation, tends to harden attitudes, while the blue one is over-trusting of other people.

"The key to solving dilemmas of trust and risk," he writes, "is not to alternate between non-trusting red and too-trusting blue, but to fuse them into purple conditional behaviour.

"This fusion neatly expresses the essence of the negotiation exchange: give me some of what I want (my red results side) and I will give you some of what you want (my blue relationship side). Red is taking behaviour, blue is giving behaviour and purple is trading behaviour, taking while giving."

The strength of purple behaviour, he argues, is that it is a two-way exchange rather than a one-way street and moreover deals with people as they are and not how you assume or want them to be.

The importance of realising this, he says, is that in the modern business environment everybody has to negotiate. Though arguments continue over the role of trade unions, the reality is that increasing numbers of people have their terms and conditions of employment dealt with through individual negotiations rather than collective bargaining.

Moreover, in flatter, less hierarchical organisations there is less room for deference and more need for discussion and co-operation, or negotiation.

Kennedy, who runs a consultancy called Negotiate Ltd that specialises in the field, has an e-mail address to which he invites people attending his courses to send their problems. Unsurprisingly, a good proportion of them are related to personal pay, for - as he says - money may not be the prime motivator for employees, but where there is a grievance it can be a demotivator.

But he acknowledges that even with the help of the book and whatever advice he dispenses via e-mail, many people will still feel unable to deal with workplace issues on their own. For this reason he would like to see the call for greater trade union rights widened so that employees could be represented by anybody they wanted.

That, he says, would lead to the arrival of groups of professional negotiators, or agents, who would look after their clients' interests in a work environment that the consultants say is getting to be more like the film world all the time.

"The New Negotiating Edge" is published by Nicholas Brealey (pounds 20 hardback, pounds 12.99 paperback). Gavin Kennedy's e-mail address is gavin@neg1.demon.