HBR Guide to Negotiating - Jeff Weiss

HBR Guide to Negotiating - Jeff Weiss

Learn the HBR way to get out of the common place and discover myths and truths about the most diverse negotiation processes, through detailed steps and objective questions.

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Maybe you are the CEO of a large multinational company. In this case, it is clear how useful the teachings contained in the book are in closing a million-dollar deal between two companies.

But even if your conjuncture does not take place by building agreements and relationships, you will notice how you also negotiate almost daily, you just don't realize it.

Peace negotiations, for example, can happen from territories at war, to a conflict situation between two countries that want to find a solution to their problem, reach a middle ground, and both win.

If the customer asks the owner of a small grocery store for a discount on a slightly larger sale, they both try to get better conditions in the transaction, just as if the merchant decides to expand his business by buying the establishment next door where a small shop operates.

Didn't we cite a scenario that you can identify with? So, if you have ever had trouble planning a family event, negotiating where you would travel to on your vacations or, arriving at your destination, who would get which room, know that you have, in fact, executed a negotiation.

However, if you think that negotiating involves someone taking advantage of the other party, you are mistaken. You will have better chances of succeeding at high stakes deals by forming a key partnership with the person you are dealing with.

Written by negotiation expert Jeff Weiss, the “HBR Guide to Negotiating” says that the definition of negotiation is: “A situation in which two parties, with generally competing motivations and objectives, reach an agreement that satisfies both”.

The book “HBR Guide to Negotiating”

In 208 pages, Weiss brings several graphic contents that exemplify typical negotiation cases, with fictional situations and characters, but which are very close to reality.

Maps and tables throughout the 15 chapters help you visualize the ideal organization to be made when conducting agreements, and provide simple and straightforward substitutions for ineffective platitudes.

The book was published in 2016 by Harvard Business Review Press, which belongs to Harvard Business School.

Who is Jeff Weiss? 

The author is a graduate of Harvard Law School and founder of Vantage Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in business negotiations. In this business, Weiss has more than 25 years of experience.

In addition, he was president of Lesley University and taught at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

At the United States Military Academy, Besides teaching, he was responsible for creating and directing a project that aims to improve the ability of military leaders to negotiate in challenging situations, both in war and peace scenarios.

Why should I read “HBR Guide to Negotiating”?

Negotiations can be stressful, that is a fact. Certainly, people who deal with external agents and occupy positions with more autonomy to make agreements will get more benefit from the work.

Still, it proves applicable in many contexts where it is necessary to work with collaboration and creativity resulting in a solution that satisfies everyone involved.

According to the author, it is a “book for professionals of all hierarchical levels, with or without experience in the subject”, to be used in “negotiations of any size, alone at the table or with a support team”.

The book delivers tips and advice that enhances conflict management skills, of course, and creative thinking.

What are the key points of “HBR Guide to Negotiating”?

  • You should never accept anything less than the “best alternative”;
  • Having to abandon the negotiation does not mean failure;
  • In most negotiations, it is always possible to generate a higher value than initially imagined;
  • Effective negotiations require a well-crafted approach and dedication in preparation;
  • Negotiations are neither based on taking advantage of each other, nor on each one making a certain amount of concessions.

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What are the seven elements of success?

Four contents and three processes make up the seven elements that characterize a successful negotiation.

In the first category, it must:

  1. Satisfy the main interests, yours and the other party's; 
  2. Be the best of many options
  3. Obey fair and legitimate criteria
  4. Be better than the alternatives

For processes, the elements of success are:

  1. Be made of clear and workable commitments
  2. Result from effective communication
  3. Helping to create the kind of relationship you want.

With only these elements being mentioned, you can already see that positional negotiation, so frequent, in most cases, is not an interesting approach.

Being inflexible and giving in bit by bit, to a previously stipulated limit, in the hope of finding the middle ground can be a quick alternative that requires little preparation and gives a sense of gain, but it doesn't work at all when you have to care about the long-term relationship.

The focus in the negotiation should not be the process of successive concessions. Instead, run away from the win or lose situations. Exercise creativity in the search for different solutions, resulting in better outcomes that satisfy each one of those involved. This is the so-called circle of value approach.

This name already provides a visual representation of why the method is so advantageous. The circle is a space. In it you can explore all aspects involved in the negotiation in a creative way, without the limitation of movements that the usual "ping-pong" imposes.

Unlike the first type of negotiation, this one requires a lot of dedication beforehand. The author recommends for the preparation at least as much time as you imagine the negotiation will take.

How should I prepare for a negotiation?

First, you need to “negotiate the negotiation”. Check with the other parties the basics of what and how it will be handled, so that everyone starts on the same page. Some questions the author indicates to ask are:

  • What are the matters that we need to discuss?
  • What other parts do we need to include? 
  • How and when?
  • Do we wish to establish ground rules?
  • Do we want to set a deadline?
  • How will we solve the conflicts?
  • What do we do if the negotiation starts to fail?
  • Are there specific ways to prepare in advance? 

Once this is done, comes your individual preparation. At this stage you need to get rid of everything you take certain about who you will be dealing with and the negotiation process itself. Generally, these are the two categories that carry assumptions that get in the way of the deal.

Assumptions can directly affect the course of the conversation, so be sure to constantly assess throughout the process what is fact and what is an assumption that needs to be changed.

Another important step in preparation is to find out what would be your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

This expression is responded to when you evaluate what you could do if you cannot reach an agreement. Can the service offered to you be done by someone else? Could your company supply the demand? In any case, what would be the loss in money, time, and quality?

The focus here is to arm yourself with as much information as possible before you step into the field. Have you thought about any option that might suit your interests? Write it down. Yes, write down any idea. The minimum recommended by Jeff Weiss is seven or eight for simple trades. For the complex ones, he then suggests "many more".

Now it may be going through your mind: “Right, but all this requires a lot of time. What if the negotiation is something sudden, for which I haven't had time to plan?”.

Then, mentally go over, during your commute or even while you start the conversation, some more questions Weiss has indicated specifically for this type of situation:

  • What are my interests?
  • What could the interests of the other party be?
  • What are the common creative options?
  • What persuasive criteria should be applied?
  • What are my alternatives if we cannot reach an agreement?
  • What are the other party's alternatives if we cannot reach an agreement?

Finally, it is worth pointing out that these are all just guidelines to gain more control of the business. It is important to be flexible and learn the best way through the process. As Roger Fisher, Weiss' mentor, said: “It is better to have a map of the terrain than to have planned a single path through the woods”.

How to conduct a negotiation?

Contrary to what many people think, it is best to start the conversation yourself. Taking the initiative puts you in a position of control from the start.

Now comes another important term. Two-way negotiation aims to strengthen the parties' relationship by separating it from the content of the negotiation.

To do this, be clear in what you say, ask questions to confirm what is said, and do active listening.

The irony in this part is that the more you are willing to be convinced, the greater your power of persuasion.

Everyone who is negotiating needs to take the time to brainstorm. The key word here is “possibilities”. It is important for three reasons: they are not fixed commitments, they are doable things, and it is in the plural, showing the variety of options.

Let's now make a parenthesis. How to proceed if, at this point, you realize that you are dealing with someone irreducible or who has lost control of their emotions and the meeting is becoming unproductive or, worse, harmful?

The answer is simple: be objective. Sure, it's simpler when spoken than when performed, but it takes socially and emotionally intelligent attitudes.

Take a deep breath and be systematic. In order to have a disciplined approach to finding the way out of this delicate situation, the author recommends you to:

  1. Focus on your physical reactions;
  2. Listen to what the other party has to say;
  3. Show that you have heard what was said;
  4. Demonstrate empathy;
  5. Find out more;
  6. Take a break.

Pay attention also to your attitudes and body language. Maybe your interlocutor is just reacting to a defensive position of yours, a raised tone of voice, or a poorly worded sentence.

If, still, the hard game remains, there are three alternatives: “introduce an element that the other party is not using; take an element that the other party is using and use it differently; tell the other party to stop playing the game they are playing”.

However, it may be that the braking is in the very terms discussed. In this case, mentor Roger Fisher advised to look at it from another's point of view. Trying to create an agreeable proposition, Jeff Weiss sets out five reflections:

  1. Ask yourself if you are trying to convince the right person;
  2. Imagine what choice the other party believes you are asking them to make;
  3. Make a list of the negative consequences the other party might perceive if they agree to the current proposal;
  4. Share and check your analysis;
  5. Elaborate another proposal.

How to close a negotiation?

Finally, after so much preparation and dedication along the process, it is time to move on to the results. However, those who think this is the easiest part are mistaken.

If, up to this point, you have not obtained anything better than your best alternative, abandon the negotiation, simple as that. Never negotiate just to reach an agreement. Remember: this is not necessarily a negative result.

However, if the parties are satisfied with what they have achieved, it is time to finalize the so-called single text procedure.

It is a shared document, to be changed and improved with each feedback, by a designated writer.

The author of the book uses this document in situations ranging from budgets for next year or who gets which office, to complex sales and peace negotiations, such is its effectiveness.

Your last three steps, as far as the negotiation itself is concerned, must be: document the terms, communicate to stakeholders, and prepare for the implementation of the agreement.

After that, your work continues. Recap where you got it right, how you succeeded, and where you could have improved. It may even generate a negotiation strategy manual for your company to refer back to in the future.

Books about Negotiation and Strategy

Like the author of this book, Michael Weiss, who wrote “The Art of Negotiation”, is also related to Harvard Business School. The negotiation professor also teaches in his book how to do better in negotiations through exercises and tips. For him, though, improvisation at this moment is the main factor.

What to do in situations of extreme complexity, short time, or when the other party starts to lose their temper? Learn from former FBI negotiator Chris Voss in “Never Split the Difference”.

Now, if you prefer to practice a lot before applying in real life the lessons you learned here, in “Negotiation at Work”, author Ira Asherman goes through 60 exercises focused mainly on the negotiation of the company's sales team.

How can I make better deals with the book “HBR Guide to Negotiating”?

  • Don’t take any preconceived ideas as absolute truth;
  • Work with the other party by building agreements in a collaborative way;
  • Whenever possible, review, mentally or in a notebook, the seven elements of success, and how you can apply them to that situation;
  • Always be open to new directions that go beyond what you had planned;
  • Try applying these tips in all areas of your life. For example, in a request for a salary increase, negotiations may be more difficult; 
  • If tempers get heated, be the voice of reason.

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Also, if you want to read in detail the fictitious cases with which the author exemplifies negotiation scenarios, and gather inspiration to better formulate phrases that collaborate in the transmission of your proposals, click on the image below and purchase the complete book, in English!

Book HBR Guide to Negotiating