Fearless Negotiation: Tips From Harvard’s William Ury

In light of last week’s Republican defeat of the “Paycheck Fairness Act” — which would have created federal grants to improve women’s salary negotiation skills — now seems as good a time as any to once again explore the question, “Why do women allegedly still suck at negotiation?” and, more importantly, “What can we do about it?”

For answers, I went to William Ury, cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and bestselling author of “The Power of Positive No: How To Say No and Still Get To Yes.” I was surprised to learn that women’s so-called lack of negotiation skills may soon cease to be a problem in the workplace — but not for the reason you might think…

What are the characteristics of “positive conflict”?
No is the key word of protection. It is perhaps the most powerful word in the language. And because it’s the most powerful, it can be the most destructive. But if we can learn to wield it well and essentially marry it back with yes in a positive way, then it can be a tool for us to engage in precisely the kind of fearless confrontation and positive conflict that you’re referring to. To me, the great problem in our world is that we’ve divorced the word yes from the word no. And we have to remarry them. We have to learn to use both muscles, the yes muscle and the no muscle. I mean, the age at which children learn to use the word no is referred to as the “terrible twos,” and so what we’ve done is, we’ve stigmatized the word no. We have to take the stigma off it and put it back in our vocabulary in right balance with the word yes, so that we can take care of ourselves and our needs in this world where, without that, we just become passive.

Your book refers to the “positive no.” Can you explain what that is?
It’s a no that begins with a yes, and that yes is to your deepest core value: your integrity, what you stand for, what you care the most about. And that’s followed by a no that’s a respectful no. It’s not an angry no. It’s not a rejecting no. It’s simply a matter-of-fact, neutral, calm, powerful no. And then that’s followed on the other end with a yes which is a reinforcement of the relationship. Because obviously the no can be somewhat challenging to the relationship. For example, your boss asks you to work this weekend, and you’ve got a family wedding. So your yes is to your family: “I have a family commitment this weekend, so no, I will not be able to work. I’d be happy to work late this week, or get Mary and John to work with me on this, and we can get the work done.” So there’s a constructive proposal at the other end to your boss. Basically you start from the yes, the core value that you need to protect. Out of that emerges a very clear, matter-of-fact no, which is a simple line that you’re drawing that has some power and conviction behind it. And then there’s a constructive proposal on the other side.

You have to look after yourself first, you mean?
Right. That [yes-no-yes] structure is basically a joining of interest, power and relationship, which are the three keys that you need in negotiation. You need to be focused on your interests, you need to know what your power is, and you need to be sensitive to the relationship. [Interview continues below.]

“Mad Men”: Harry Crane vs. Roger Sterling, Part 1

In this clip, Harry Crane gets pretty much everything he wants, albeit in spite of himself. But it’s still hard to tell who’s negotiating with whom here — or who’s thereal winner. (That Roger!) Takeaway tips: 1) Free drinks shouldn’t be considered part of your salary. 2) If your boss says, “Say yes”… say, “Yes.” 3) As soon as you get your raise, leave your boss’s office. Immediately. (Hilarious walk optional.)

What words should be used when negotiating or disagreeing with someone?
Phrases like “No thanks”… there’s a little bit of respect in there. It’s using the word no in a good way. Or it might be a simple thing like, “I have a policy of not loaning money to friends.” So it’s not something personal. You’re not attacking them. To me, one of the most greatly underrated values in dealing with people [is] basic human respect. It’s the deepest concession you can make to someone. It costs you nothing and it means everything. And it gets you a lot further. Respect towards the other is founded in self-respect. And no is the key word of self-respect. If you can’t say the word no, you can’t respect yourself, because then the whole world crowds in and makes demands and you say yes to everything and your life becomes a mess.

Uh huh! But why is it true that self-respect leads to respect of others?
You can’t really respect someone else, truly, unless you respect yourself first. Otherwise, you’re not respecting them, you’re just giving in to them. True respect is based on something that emerges from you. You’ve got to start from within. That’s why the word no is so important. And interestingly, what I’ve found is that people — particularly women — when they learn to say the word no and marry it properly with the word yes, they get more respect.

That’s so true! So, the constructive proposal on the other end… that’s about the big picture, right? Because in the example you gave, it wasn’t really about working on the weekend, it was about making sure the work was done.
That’s it! It’s about [getting] behind what people say they want — which you get to by using the magic word “why”: “Why is it that you need me to work this weekend?” Once you get to that underlying interest, then there are different options. And then you can get creative. Always look behind what people seem to want or seem to be demanding for the underlying needs, desires, fears, concerns that actually motivate them. Usually, our conversations are based on positions. Positions are the concrete, tangible thing that we say we want: “I want the family to go to Hawaii for a vacation!” But the interests are, “I want the family to have a good time and be together.” Once you get the underlying interests, you can find other ways to meet them than through the original position, which might not be acceptable to you.

When should you definitely not compromise?
You shouldn’t compromise your core interests, your core needs, your core values.

Your health, your marriage….
Exactly. If you’re compromising those, that should be a real red flag. And then you have to answer the question, “What power do I have to protect my core interests?”Before you engage in a conversation with the other, ask yourself, “How am I going to be able to meet my needs if for some reason I’m not able to reach agreement with the other side?” Then you have what in negotiation we call your BATNA: your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. It turns out that your BATNA is power, and one of the most important things you can do — or one of the most common mistakes you can make — is not to think about what you’re going to do if you can’t reach agreement. That’s what gives your no real power: “If you don’t respect my no — which is protecting my core interests — then I’m going to have to take certain actions.” Which are: “I’m going to leave this job,” or “I’m going to take you to court,” or whatever.

It sounds like a poker game!
A poker game involves a high amount of bluff.

But if your boss says, “If you don’t work this weekend, I’m firing you,” aren’t you calling his bluff?
But you’re not bluffing! You’re serious! First of all, successful negotiators rarely make direct threats. Direct threats tend to get the other side’s back up. This is where respect comes in very highly. Because otherwise your boss thinks you’re challenging their authority, and that’s definitely where you’re off to the races. But the firmness and the calmness and the quietness… a powerful no is often a very quiet no. It doesn’t have to be a vociferous no. It’s got that quiet tone of assured self-confidence. And where does that come from? It comes from knowing that you have certain lines. You’re not going to work in a situation where you have to give up a very, very important family commitment. Or one that is going to compromise your marriage.

What are some other common confrontations that you’ve found people dread or fear?
Asking for a raise!

Yes! What’s the fear under that, exactly?
It’s very personal. You fear being rejected, and you fear being told that you’re not doing a good job. Insecurity feeds into it, because you’re asking for yourself. And money becomes a symbol for a lot of things. And here, again, it’s really important to know what your interests are, to know what your BATNA is. What are you going to do if you don’t get the raise? It’s about putting yourself in your bosses’ shoes, understanding their interests, thinking of constructive options if the budget’s tight. Maybe you can get a raise contingent on performance, or a raise three months from now…. But really think it through. Your interest might not be more money. It might be recognition or a chance for career development. It could be taking on more significant responsibility that takes you closer to the powers that be and offers you mentorship opportunities.

Or another week of vacation! That’s always my hidden motive.
Then one of your core interests is quality of life. Balance.

Yes, it is! Okay, what are the most common mistakes people make during a negotiation? Are these different for men vs. women?
To me, one of the mottos of successful negotiation is to be soft on the people while you remain hard on the problem. One of the biggest mistakes we make in negotiation is, we confuse the people with the problem, so that we then make the mistake — and women are more prone to making this one — “Because I want to be soft on the person, I end up being soft on the problem.” In other words, making a lot of concessions, compromising basic interests in order to be nice. Men often make the opposite mistake, which is, “Because I need to be hard on the problem, that means being hard on the person. So be it: Fire them! Treat them harshly!” What often happens in that case is, people’s egos, their feelings, get in the way. What you find successful negotiators doing is constantly finding a way to disentangle the people (the psychological or relational aspects of the negotiation) from the problem (the substantive aspects, the issues). Since women are more tuned to relationships, to me, that gives them an advantage in negotation — particularly in negotiations where there are ongoing relationships, and those are, these days, the vast majority. They’re not just one-shot deals. Everyone wants ongoing relationships, be they with customers or partners or colleagues. Men have more of a tendency to treat negotiation like a transaction where one side wins and the other side loses. It has its place in certain negotiations, but it’s increasingly less relevant than a relational approach, where you look for solutions that work for both sides.

Why is that less relevant nowadays, would you say?
Because of the nature of modern-day business. There’s kind of a shift going through society. The organizational pyramids of power, which were traditional — where the people on top simply give orders and the people on the bottom simply follow them — those pyramids of power are starting to flatten into organizations that resemble networks of negotiation, because of the information revolution and the knowledge revolution and a variety of other phenomena. So we are literally dependent these days on hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals and organizations over whom we exercise no direct control. We can’t simply give them orders. We’re in these networks of relationships where, in order to get what we need, we need to negotiate, and where ongoing relationships are extremely valuable and are our most valuable asset. In these kinds of situations, if you practice harsh, ruthless, win-lose negotiation, sure, you may do well in one negotiation, but then the other person won’t want to negotiate with you again and they’ll try to find someone else and your reputation will get around and pretty soon you’re doing yourself a big disservice. Right now, I would say that asking the traditional question of, “Who’s winning this negotiation?” is more and more like asking the question, “Who’s winning this marriage?” If you’re asking that question, your marriage is in serious difficulty!

I love that! It’s so true! What are some other words that you should not say in a negotiation?
The kinds of words to get away from are words of disrespect. A lot of those words have to do with “you” — it’s blame, attack: “You did this! You’re that! You’re the problem!” That gets people very defensive and not very cooperative. And so if you can shift your vocabulary from “you” to “we” or “I” — “How can we solve this problem?”; “That doesn’t work for me” — you’re not attacking the people, you’re attacking the problem. It’s more objective. Again, it’s about being respectful to people while you remain tough on unacceptable behavior, like sexist behavior. You can’t say, “You’re a damn sexist,” but you can get very specific: “When you made that comment about how I was dressed, I felt this way, and I can tell you it doesn’t work for me to work in these kinds of conditions.”

You’re still saying “you,” though: “When you said that….”
But it’s not “You are….” You’re not attributing something to them. You’re just describing it neutrally, like a scientist. You’re not judging. It’s the judging words that get in the way. You’re saying, “Look, when these words were said, this is how I felt and this is not acceptable to me.” You’re letting them know in a way that’s respectful but that’s also very much on the point of the problem. You’re not letting the behavior slide by.

I love your point about “getting specific.” I feel like people often generalize: “You always….”
Yeah. That’s another thing to take out of your vocabulary: hyperbolic words like “always” and “never.” They make you lose credibility, because the other side can always come up with instances where it’s not true. The more specific you can be about the behavior, the easier it is for the other side to receive what could be somewhat difficult feedback. And as you’re [being] tough on their behavior, you can let them know that you value them as a human being. You value the relationship. The more power you exercise, the more respect you need to show, in order to counterbalance.

What’s the difference between aggression and assertion?
Aggression is disrespectful, and assertion is respectful. Aggression is focused on attacking the other, and assertion is focused on protecting you.

“Mad Men”: Harry Crane vs. Roger Sterling, Part 2

In this clip, Roger’s the clear winner, mostly because he controls this “negotiation” from beginning to end. (Poor Harry doesn’t know what hit him.) Takeaway tips: 1) Always be ready to ask for a raise or bonus, even if you think you’re about to be fired. 2) Know when to stop. 3) After your boss gives you said bonus — no matter what the reason — never tell him or her, “You’re going to owe me.” It just doesn’t go over well.

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