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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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Changing Negotiation: From ‘What’s in it for me?’ to ‘What’s in it for us?’


We all need to negotiate – it’s an everyday part of our professional and working lives. Negotiations can be relatively simple: Agreeing who’s going to walk the dog or cook dinner – or at work, who’s going to respond to a customer complaint. Or they can be complex – negotiating with major stakeholders in a project, negotiating a major purchase, negotiating for a pay rise or with trade unions. The list is endless. 

Although some negotiations seem trivial, in reality they are all important. Every negotiation has the potential to build/grow a relationship or irreparably damage it. That’s a fact we often overlook. 

Here’s another fact: Most of the time, the way people negotiate is badly flawed. Whether it’s buying a car or playing Monopoly, they use the same technique; “I’ll give you this, if you’ll give me that”. Absolutely no consideration is given to what’s important to the other person or people in the negotiation – to their needs and feelings. Negotiation becomes a battle - with winners and losers. 

No-one likes to feel that they’ve got the rough end of a deal and, as we often find ourselves negotiating with the same people time and time again, one immediate problem with this approach is that future negotiations with the ‘loser’ become much tougher. The loser will simply refuse to negotiate next time or will demand more and give less in an attempt to redress the balance.  

So, what’s the answer?

The answer quite simply is to approach negotiations from a different perspective. The change is a simple one to explain. It involves moving from ‘What’s in it for me?’ to ‘What’s in it for us?’. When we do this, we start to look at the situation not as a battle, with a winner and a loser, but as a shared problem that needs to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. 

Even in a transactional negotiation, like buying a house, that can be important because the focus moves from simply one of, ‘How much will I pay?’ to ‘How can I add value for you?’. 

Let me give you an example: I recently decided to sell my house in the countryside, where I kept my horses at home, and move to a smaller house in town. This meant moving my horses into livery. Shortly after putting the house on the market, I received an offer, even before I’d found a house I wanted to buy.

Sadly, the buyers were old-fashioned ‘hard ball’ negotiators, and not particularly good ones at that. Since they were only willing to negotiate on price, I simply held out for my ideal price. Had they been willing to negotiate outside of those boundaries, they could have saved themselves thousands of pounds. Here’s two things that would have added value to the transaction for me:

•    A promise to preserve the trees we’d planted in the garden in memory of our parents. 
•    Flexibility in terms of timescales for moving my horses, which would have reduced a huge stress involved in moving. This would have been an easy thing for them to give, as they had no idea what to do with the field, and simply let it become overgrown after moving in. Offering a temporary space for the horses in the event of not being able to move them quickly would not only have removed a massive stress factor for me, but would also have made it easier to complete the transaction quickly – something that was important to them.

The buyer’s refusal to move the negotiations outside the focus of 
price not only meant they paid more than they needed to, it also meant the negotiations took longer than they needed to – ironic, since they were in a hurry. 

There’s another point here. By changing my own perspective away from, ‘What’s in it for me?’ to ‘What’s in it for us?’, I improved my chances of a successful negotiation, even though the other party didn’t adapt their approach. Understanding their needs and desires, and in particular, knowing that they were in a hurry, strengthened my own negotiation position. I could patiently wait for them to increase their offer, whilst at the same time showing an understanding of their needs, by offering to move to friends or parents if necessary to ensure a quick completion once we’d agreed a price. Of course, the delays in agreeing that price actually gave me the extra weeks I needed to find the house of my dreams and a great home for the horses. 

Moving from ‘What’s in it for me?’ to ‘What’s in it for us?’ is an important behavioural change that will help your learners become better, more successful negotiators - and there’s loads of great material in Trainers’ Library that will help you facilitate this transformation. One of the best is Island of Opportunity. It’s a powerful exercise in which four unique tribes have to decide how they’re going to divide an island between them. No matter what level you’re running this exercise with – and I’ve used it with Board Directors - the results are always fascinating, and powerful.

It seems other learning and development professionals agree, as Island of Opportunity has been given a maximum 5-star rating by our customers. As one put it: “They were astounded at how easy it is to deal with other parts of the business to gain support and solve problems together, instead of constantly hitting brick walls and not achieving their goals.”

So, if you need help moving your learners from ‘What’s in it for me?’ to, ‘What’s in it for us?’, you know where to look.

Rod Webb

Thanks for reading. If you liked this blog, please use the buttons to the left to share it with others in your community. And I love feedback, of all kinds, so please do leave a comment below. Finally, for loads of helpful tips and ideas from me and the team, please follow us on Twitter @glasstaplimited. 

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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