Frameworks in Negotiations

A good negotiation framework or methodology, much like a frame, defines the problem by eliminating irrelevant clutter and clarifies our path towards of negotiation goals.

Preparing for a negotiation can be equated to a couple coming together to build their dream house. Each will have different ideas and visions, on how the house will be designed. They both want the house, but their interests in what they want to derive from the functionality of the house will vary from their unique perspectives. One wants a brightly lit solarium filled with tropical plants; the other wants a roomy workshop. They can either work at cross purposes and end up in a drawn out bitter dispute, or they use a negotiation methodology that illuminates the way to mediate differences and shows how to find common ground which meets everyone's interests.

The blueprints used by the two people in considering their respective designs, are their own individual frameworks in defining their unique vision of the house. If they consider each other's needs or interests in the design of the house, they will try to accommodate each other to achieve their mutual goal.

The word frame can be defined as a way in which something is expressed. The classic example is how a person describes a half filled glass of water. The pessimist is likely to describe the glass as half empty, while the optimist would view the glass as half full. The manner in how we perceive the amount of water, vividly illustrates how differently two people might frame their viewpoint. The method in how we frame our preparations for a negotiation can be applied in the same negative or positive context.

Our Negotiation Framework is used by our clients to define the problem or opportunity, which involves eliminating irrelevant clutter. If we want to make a proposal or consider an offer, we consider only the applicable positive and negative effects. By organizing the information so we can sharpen our understanding of what's on the table, a frame allows us to interpret important information through analysis. The proposal or offer is given a boundary through which we can act because of our understanding or perspective. A frame allows us to focus on problems, issues, interests and solutions.  When preparing for a negotiation, look at framing the problem from both perspectives. Create one framework for yourself and another for your counterpart. Consider what you perceive to be the positions and interests of both parties. This will give you a more complete overall perspective. The bigger picture will allow you to consider one or more scenarios to present to the other side. A picture that addresses the positions and interests of both sides.

By focusing on the similarities we have in common with our negotiation counterpart, our perspective is akin to taking the viewpoint that the glass is half full. By assuming a positive approach, we can mutually offer overall value to a potential agreement. Through pointing out the gains to our counterpart, versus the losses they would otherwise incur, both parties will likely be more flexible in giving and receiving, value for value concessions to reach an agreement.

Paint by Numbers Negotiation Framework

Let's sort the puzzle pieces and put the picture together.

  • What are we looking at? The first step is to visualize the negotiation problem. We need to define and be clear on the issue at stake. The problem can be anything such as a union grievance, a sales pitch or offer, or a new venture to expand our production and distribution. State the issue clearly from both perspectives.
  • Where are we now? We need to know all the facts that relate to our negotiation. This is the information gathering stage. Gather anything relevant such as finances, figures, projections, policies/procedures and demographics. Include any other relevant information you know or can learn, about both yourself and the other side.
  • Be Positive. Emphasize all the things you have in common. When both negotiation parties can visualize everything that they mutually share, the bumps wont appear as formidable. Cooperation will ease its way into the talks as a result.
  • Where are we going? Having defined the negotiation problem or opportunity and gathered all the information available, we can now brainstorm the problem to consider possible options. Again, we need to consider these possible solutions and options from both sides of the coin, as they are only preliminary option possibilities. We have yet to engage in a proper discussion with our counterpart. We need to do some more talking and listening before we fully see the light. At this stage, we may have little or no information about the other sides options or solutions, so dont pick up the chisel to write anything in stone.just yet.
  • What's in our gut? Bluntly speaking, what is the underlying emotional basis behind the issues? These are the visceral negotiation interests or motivators of eah party. There are always emotional issues involved, so don't ever think otherwise. These include our need for security, values, hopes, aspirations, fears, uncertainties and especially our egos. We have to understand the motivating factors and reasons beneath the issues and the positions from both viewpoints. If we don't fully understand their interests, as well as we understand our own, then we cannot fully understand the full scope of the issue.
  • Let's talk. This is our chance to explore and find out how the other side sees the issue. Start negotiations by clarifying the problem, to see how they define it in relation to our viewpoint. Then, we can begin to consider the positions by exploring the motivating interests which lay beneath. Active listening is very important here. If we're both in sync, we can start discussing our respective solutions.
  • Back to the drawing board. From our preliminary negotiation talks, one or both sides might realize they didn't have all the proper facts. This would be the re-framing stage. New information may require that we shuffle this  information to fit the frame. We might have to re-evaluate whole portions of our picture framework and take a different look, to figure out different solutions or options.

Always bear in mind that our negotiation framework is a work in progress. We will not necessarily fully understand our counterparts own specific negotiation framework, even after the negotiation talks have begun. Our own negotiation framework must be flexible enough to absorb new information or interests. Once this new information is re-evaluated, we can than adjust our own negotiation framework accordingly.

If our approach is taken from the negative or half empty glass of water perspective, then a downbeat tone will prevail in our attitude towards the other side. Our counterpart will sense the negative vibes and may mirror them in kind. The reverse is equally true, so be careful how you respond as this will set the tone. The possibility of a successful agreement in either scenario becomes gloomy indeed.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Yes, it's the frame that holds it. Think of a couple staring at a work of modern art hanging in a gallery. The woman says, 'This really speaks to me. It's so visceral and primal'. The guy turns his head this way and that way and thinks to himself, 'What the heck is this?' It could be that the artist was merely painting his perspective of the family pet spaniel. It's all in the eye of the beholder.

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