Negotiating for Positive Results

3/15/2012 --

Ross professors offer research-proven methods to help negotiators step away from that table and build swift trust.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Negotiation. The word evokes an image of adversaries at a table scheming to outwit one another. Delete those images, say Ross professors Shirli Kopelman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks. Their research and teaching experience on negotiations proves that players on each side of an issue can achieve their goals while building swift-trust and sustainable relationships. Kopelman and Sanchez-Burks bring their experience and knowledge to the new Executive Education course Negotiating for Positive Results. Their techniques impart confidence in any negotiation setting, whether it's a high-stakes global deal or an everyday internal matter. They also reveal an array of human biases and shatter popular myths. Oh, and that negotiating table? Don't expect to find one.

What do you have to think about before you even start negotiating?

Sanchez-Burks: The key is to set a personal intention. Clearly understand your core goal, the outcome you want after the meeting that you don't have before the meeting. We help people clarify that intention, and then guide them on how to deploy the appropriate skills, tools, and relational approach.

Kopelman: Also, the fact that you are in a negotiation inherently means that together, you may be able to do better than each of you could on your own. So start with the mindset of how you can make the most of this opportunity.

What's the best way to approach the negotiation itself?

Kopelman: Identify the resources you both have. What are we negotiating over? The more resources we have and the better we understand them, the more strategic flexibility we have. We can think about it like building. If we just have one brick we can't do that much. We may in fact fight over it, or agree to split it 50-50. But what if we could carve out an arch, some columns, and multiple smaller bricks for a foundation? Suddenly we are building something together. When we identify these different elements we can start playing and when we play we co-create value.

Sanchez-Burks: Most people do not think of negotiation as a creative problem-solving task. But when you start to run into a deadlock or you think there's no way you're going to reach a deal, this is precisely when you need to think of negotiation as an innovation problem. You need to think of a creative solution. The key to the engine of creativity is elusive for many. It seems mysterious, like something you can't conjure up in the moment. But we'll show you how. There is a straightforward process anyone can learn.

Kopelman: A challenging part of this process is to maintain a cooperative and a competitive approach. Most people have a tendency to prefer cooperation or competition, but not both in the same situation. While joint problem solving and creativity generates value, this value is up for grabs and most business people are motivated to maximize value. Our approach enables people to be effective at both value creation and value claiming, balancing and counter-balancing cooperation and competition.

Should we suppress our emotions when negotiating?

Kopelman: When people say you should leave emotions outside, they often refer to negative emotions. But what about positive emotions? Would you suppress those as well? Our research shows it is important to think about emotions in a strategic and more sophisticated way. People may believe it best to suppress their emotions or leave emotions “outside the door,” but effective negotiators understand how to monitor their emotions, gather rich information from subtle emotional cues displayed by others, and express the right emotion at the right time.

Sanchez-Burks: Sometimes you want to be negative. For example, you can use emotion to convey that the issue is serious and will require mutual concessions. Other times you need to express deep passion about a particular issue. In certain cultures, if you attempt to come across as unemotional, the other party may think you don’t care enough to warrant their attention.

As companies engage in more global interactions, what do people need to keep in mind when negotiating with peers in other countries?

Sanchez-Burks: Culture is deeply interwoven into the very fabric of our approach to interacting with others. There is no business situation or negotiation strategy that is culture-neutral. Simply learning the cultural tendencies that are common where your negotiation partner comes from is not enough. People don’t always behave with outsiders the same as they do with insiders. A mistake people make in negotiations is to assume, for example, “When I'm dealing with the Japanese all I need to do is understand how the Japanese negotiate and I'll be successful.” But they'll know you're not Japanese. So if you behave and negotiate like they would, you may end up passing each other like ships in the night. In essence, when in Rome, do as the Romans do— with outsiders.

Kopelman: Indeed, people are aware of the fact that you are traveling from outside of Rome. If you are Canadian, they expect you to be a Canadian. If you violate that expectation they may not know how to interpret your behavior. That said, don’t be ethnocentric. Make sure you know about and are sensitive to local customs and taboos.

Sanchez-Burks: Getting the deal you and the other side can brag about and actually implement over the long term requires a strategic approach that is both emotionally and culturally savvy. This is the focus of our new program.

Terry Kosdrosky

For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502,