The Business of Creativity

Houchin Consulting PLLC

Scene Magazine – March 2007

Posted on | March 11, 2007 | No Comments

Negotiations
© Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.

Lots of folks, including many lawyers, dread confrontation and negotiation. Others relish the process. I choose to redefine “negotiation” as “problem-solving.” It makes a huge difference in my attitude, my clients’ attitudes, and the attitudes of the parties on the other side of the issue.

If you do an Internet search on “negotiation” you’ll find out it’s not just a process, it’s an entire industry. Many approaches to the process can be described as “classic” or “positional bargaining” and focus on the gamesmanship of a chess match when one party is trying to squeeze every ounce of concession from the other. This approach gives rise to all the anxiety or pleasure associated with competition. I’ve found that the only “winners” in this approach are the lawyers or the people being paid for writing the books and giving the seminars.

If you’re looking for a winning negotiation strategy, take an “Interest-based” approach to negotiation as outlined in Roger Fisher and William Ury’s “Getting To Yes.” This is a small, but very valuable book that everyone – not just business-people should own. Really, order it now. Interest-based negotiation is founded on 4 mental methods:
1. People: You must separate the people from the problem.
2. Interests: Positions are just cosmetic; you need to find the real interests underlying the negotiation position.
3. Options: Don’t be stuck with one “deal-breaker” answer – generate real (hopefully win-win) options.
4. Criteria: Work toward an objective (as such, probably more mutually agreeable) standard for a successful solution.

There is NEVER only one correct solution. It doesn’t matter if you are friends trying to work out partnership interests in a new business or a couple trying to work out if the toilet seat should be left up or down (guys – you’ll always lose this one – it’s in your best INTEREST to give up and put the seat down, even though it’s completely illogical that you are always the one…–but I digress…). The interest-based negotiation process works even if you’ve decided to hate each other.

I don’t have space here to discuss the entire system; it’s the subject of a whole book after all, but I’ll let you in on the biggest benefit. You have to honestly look at the situation from the other person’s point of view, especially if there are more than two parties in the negotiation. What are THEIR interests? As the book says, “If you want to influence them, you also need to understand empathetically the power of their point of view and to feel the emotional force with which they believe in it. It is not enough to study them like beetles under a microscope; you need to now what it feels like to be a beetle.”

To effectively negotiate, you need to understand the problem you are trying to solve is as much emotional as it is practical. Objective criteria help remove the emotional attachment to positions, but sometimes you just need to understand that one of their interests is an opportunity to vent. Sometimes it’s simply an apology. These “concessions” cost little or nothing. You need to make your proposals consistent with their emotional involvement and values. You need to give them a solution that allows them to save face, but still satisfies your interests.

I don’t write Chinese, but I’ve heard the Chinese character for opportunity and crisis is the same. Interest-based negotiation can really turn a crisis into an opportunity. I’ve had many intellectual property infringement situations turn into mutually beneficial licenses. I’ve had arguments that had gotten out of hand resolve into closer friendships and more efficient businesses.

Next time you’re faced with a confrontational “negotiation” situation, adjust your attitude to an interest base “problem-solving” situation. You’ll be glad you did.

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Kevin E. Houchin principal of Houchin & Associates, PLLC – a copyright, trademark, arts & entertainment, and business development and branding firm located in Fort Collins, Colorado. To contact Kevin Houchin, call 970-493-1070 or email him at kevin.houchin@houchinlaw.com.

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