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Gaining Cooperation in Negotiation

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

I’ve been thinking about persuasion, and how, as negotiators, we can gain the other side’s cooperation in settling a case. This led me to Carl Van’s book: Gaining Cooperation: Some Simple Steps to Getting Customers to Do What You Want Them to Do. Van is a businessman who consults with companies and trains their employees to gain cooperation with customers. He also speaks regularly on this topic.

Here are Van’s steps for dealing with complaining customers:

1. Ask: Why?

2. Listen to their responses and acknowledge them.

3. Never argue with their reasons; argue with the facts.

These steps, of course, are relevant to negotiation as well. How often do we assume what the other side wants (or their motives), without checking our assumptions and asking, Why? It’s hard enough to try to meet their underlying needs and interests when we know them, even harder if we don’t.

Take the time to actually listen to their response, and then let them know that you heard them by acknowledging their view. As Van says:

“You’re acknowledging that the other person is a
reasonable person for their beliefs or for their
circumstance. You are not saying you agree with them,
you are not saying they are right, you’re simply saying
that you understand where they are coming from.
They are reasonable for their beliefs.”

Van says, if you argue with a person’s reasons, you are essentially trying to prove them wrong. That gets you caught up in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” syndrome, which is a conflict trap. On the other hand, if you argue the facts, the other side is not as defensive and acts more reasonably. You don’t have to prove them wrong.

Van has a cooperation maxim:

“People will consider what you have to say;
to the exact degree you demonstrate you
understand their point of view.”

Sounds like Stephen Covey and Mark Goulston doesn’t it? Why is this maxim so difficult for us to adopt as a negotiation tool?


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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