Commercial negotiation – techniques to solve problems and break an impasse
Have you ever found yourself at an impasse staring at an issue when working on a commercial negotiation? Sometimes, working with teams, special techniques and tactics are needed to help with a breakthrough. We frequently use these kinds of techniques and tactics with and on behalf of clients. They are not typically deployed in direct negotiations as the atmosphere can make deviation into experimental techniques difficult. This said, they can be useful in helping to achieve internal breakthroughs in problems or better still in war gaming what “the other side” might be working on. Below, we will outline a few different techniques for achieving breakthroughs.
Commercial negotiation: solving problems using the Circle of Opportunity
This technique is very useful for breaking problems down into constituent parts and then allowing each part to be dealt with in turn. While it can be a time-consuming process, it is extremely effective in developing and driving out answers to complex questions. We find this very effective in commercial strategy discussions and commercial negotiations. A common approach is as follows:
- The problem needs to be defined (e.g. resolving a contractual dispute, developing a new product, selecting a market entry approach)
- The problem is broken into 12 different areas / attributes to be worked upon
- A circle is drawn and numbered from 1-12 like a clock. The attributes are then allocated to each number.
- A die or dice are then rolled to determine at random, the attribute to be worked upon.
- Individually, or in group, the attribute is worked upon – the focus is on improving / solving the issue at hand.
- The process is repeated until all the numbers have been addressed and all attributes worked upon.
The final step is to gather the potential solutions and seek how the various agreed outcomes resolve the overall issue being addressed. While this is a flexible technique, it can be extremely effective in complex negotiations.
Commercial negotiation: the Reversal / Dereversal technique
This is a very useful technique for breaking through mindsets. It works as follows:
- State the problem that needs to be addressed using an action verb.
- Take the antonym (opposite) of the verb and solve the new problem with the new phrasing.
- The solutions to the new problem can be used to revisit the original problem with some fresh perspectives.
For example, if the problem is how do we improve employee morale you would de-reverse this by focusing on how you can worsen employee morale. Documenting the downsides (which research shows people tend to be better at) provides a list of counter-points that can be used to re-address the original problem. This is because the opposite of these counter-points should impact upon the original problem.
One thing to consider however is the material degree to which an organisation engages in the positive or negative behaviour. For instance, in the example here, an organisation could have benefits, training programmes or wellness programmes but they may not be what employees actually want. It is important to explore the issues raised and not fall into confirmation bias by assuming something that is in situ is adequate when it may not be fit for purpose at all.
We find this approach can be very useful in breaking an impasse arising from what can be seen as unreasonable resistance to a particular issue.
Commercial negotiation: Using the Napolean technique
This is an unorthodox (i.e. sometimes the very best way) method for achieving breakthrough when faced with an impasse. It is called the Napolean technique because people looking at the problem are asked to put themselves in the shoes of somebody famous and solve the problem from their perspective. As time marches on, rubrics need to be updated but there are a wide variety of people associated with breakthrough mindsets.
You could ask people to think what any of the following might do:
Sheryl Sandberg, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafazi, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Oprah Winfrey or anybody else that springs to mind.
It is more important that people are being encouraged to step outside normative behaviour by thinking through the perspective of people that have a reputation for breaking the mould in some kind of manner. Presenting an all-female, international list of people from different cultures, perspectives and ethnicities shouldn’t be an example of this (but sadly it is).
This technique can appeal to the vanity inherent in most humans and is an invitation to think unconventionally. It has many applications but can be useful in achieving breakthrough mindsets in negotiations and problem-solving. It can help in particular when the solution requires a shifting from position based negotiation to principle based negotiation. We have written about position based and principle based negotiation here (and elsewhere on this site).