Many old school negotiators live in the world of anchoring on a position and fighting to maintain the position. They get stuck on a particular topic and become like a dog with a bone or, if you like, a dragon trying to protect the castle. Turns out dragons aren’t very smart. They believe that negotiating is about holding your ground on the draw bridge to the castle. They’re willing to die on that draw bridge and kudos to them, they fight hard to maintain their position and dominance on that draw bridge. But, what they don’t realize is that the draw bridge isn’t the only way into the castle.
Positional negotiating is antiquated. There is a strong argument for it, but it really shouldn’t be used if you don’t have to. When you anchor yourself to a position you don’t give yourself ANY flexibility to move. You lose touch with reality and what the actual interests of all the parties are. Sticking to one position opens up your weak points to attack from the other side. By allowing yourself to be fixed to one position you are letting your guard down to all the other areas where you may face attack.
I personally love it when I negotiate with someone with a positional approach on negotiation because it shows me the weak spots right away. When negotiating with someone who takes a positional approach to negotiation, logic rarely works. Trying to get them to focus on the issues instead of their position can be super challenging and while I’ll admit it’s probably the right way to do something, it’s really really time consuming. So what’s a person to do if you don’t have the time to work on changing the persons mind on positional negotiating and to focus on the interests instead?
My friends, the only way to fight dragons is to create a “new castle” for them to protect and distract them with so that they ‘protect’ a new position.
Throughout negotiating, you’ll find ‘hot button’ issues with each dragon you negotiate with. When you find those ‘hot button’ issues, don’t exploit them until you absolutely need to. Stay with me. I used to negotiate with this old school guy a lot and he was the perfect dragon. He was overbearing, loud, overly dominant. He pounded his fists on the table, and he was super positional. He was actually a nice guy, but in a negotiation, he just turned into a dragon and held onto positions till the death. The only way I could ever get him to move on any topic I needed to win was to create a new position for him to protect by exploiting his ‘hot button issues’.
There was one day we were negotiating the wording in a contract clause related to the limitation of liability that the subcontractors of this contractor maintained. My firm would never accept the wording as it stood in the clause as it placed all the risk on my firm and none on the contractor or their subcontractor. It was an important clause to us and them. I tried to get creative, use logic, talk about interests, but eventually his positional negotiating wore me down to the point where I wasn’t sure where to go. I called a time out and took 30 minutes to grab a coffee and think about what I was going to do. While having my coffee (which I like black if you ever buy me a coffee), I realized he personally didn’t care about this point and the interests of his company, he just didn’t want to lose the point. He was stuck on the position and not on the actual issue.
I realized that throughout the negotiation he had exposed a number of ‘hot button’ issues, which we hadn’t negotiated yet, that were important to him and his firm, but that we could give up on without any major heart burn. I decided then and there to create a ‘new castle’ for him to protect by moving the negotiation to a new hot button issue he could claim a position on and ‘win’. In this circumstance, I had discovered that he was really angry over our position on intellectual property (IP). Truthfully, our firm could have cared less about IP and didn’t view the loss of certain IP as a risk at all.
I went back into the room and said, “Look, it’s clear we’re not going to move anywhere on limitation of liability with subcontractors right now. What do you say we move to IP.” Immediately he said, “Well you can forget about us giving up our IP on this agreement, it aint gonna happen!!!” I read him right. For the next 30 minutes I built up IP into a massive issue, a mountain that he had to climb to get me off ‘my position’. By doing this I created ‘a new castle’ for him to protect. It became a more important position for him than the limited liability position. Finally, when I thought I had him at the point where he was going to lose it I said, “Look, I’m getting frustrated hitting brick walls here negotiating with you and you’re wearing me down. Maybe there’s something I can get management to agree on for IP, but I’ll need you to give up something on limitation of liability to make it work.” We agreed to each go back to our management to discuss options. When we came back, we both came in with concessions (me on IP and him on limitation of liability) and were able to make a deal on those items and move the negotiation forward.
We created a new position for him to protect so that we could expose what we really wanted. He was happy with the exchange and both parties came out getting what they wanted.
Next time you’re dealing with a positional negotiator, try creating a new position for them to protect instead of fighting them with logic and shared interests. It’ll probably save you time.