I am constantly training women how to win in the workplace. I also work with many soft power male leaders who need to influence hard power leaders. And when I work on culture change projects I often work with low-power leaders (director-level–where all the work gets done) who need to influence high power (C-level) leaders. So I have a lot of experience helping people get what they want when they don’t have power to insist on it.

Win-Win is a powerful negotiating paradigm especially when no deal is a viable option.

Win-Win is a powerful negotiating paradigm especially when no deal is a viable option. I focused on training Win-Win for the many years I was with Stephen Covey. After all its habit number five. Win-Win works marvelously in many circumstances, especially when goals are similar and values are shared. However, there are many instances in which the people you are negotiating with have no interest in your best interests or even their own…what then?

Researcher Heidi Halvorson (No One Understands You and What to Do About It) shows that as people move up in organizations their emotional intelligence begins to wither.

First, we should all be aware that we live in a world filled with asymmetrical power. Researcher Heidi Halvorson (No One Understands You and What to Do About It) shows that as people move up in organizations their emotional intelligence begins to wither. When you don’t have much power you have to use Win-Win strategies to convince people to do things that will help you succeed. After all, you can’t simply insist that others do what you want. But as you grow in power you can begin to order people to do things to help you succeed. When you get powerful enough you don’t have to go for win-win. You can become an institutionally empowered bully. You can just go for “I win.”

So what can we do when we have low-power and we find ourselves having to negotiate with a high-powered individual that doesn’t seem to know how to spell win-win let alone face inconvenient truths or make courageous choices?

I call it SMART Power Negotiating. It’s based on what we’ve learned about our brains and biology.

1. Take control of the place you negotiate. It’s much better to negotiate in a neutral room away from a powerful person’s office where their trappings of success and symbols of power permeate the atmosphere. If you have to negotiate in an office setting, do it in the conference room. If you are negotiating business to business, meet at your offices, or choose a neutral spot like a restaurant. Some of the best negotiating I’ve ever done has been on long walks. There are some very specific reasons walking negotiations work well. First, you’re not staring into the eyes of the person with whom you’re trying to achieve agreement. This makes their facial expressions of disagreement or resistance invisible to you. This helps you maintain your confidence. Second, after about seven minutes, walking in a matched cadence tends to synchronize brain waves. This promotes more empathy and mutual understanding. (I highly recommend walking and talking with teenagers if you’re trying to influence their decisions or behavior.)

Some of the best negotiating I’ve ever done has been on long walks.

2. Make your WHY compelling. When powerful people don’t want to do WHAT you want them to do your best strategy is to amplify WHY they should go along. Gandhi negotiated India’s independence by dramatizing the moral imperative that triggered England’s higher conscience. Low power leaders who take control of the WHY bring about virtually all social change. A moral WHY works very effectively on social issues but not very effectively in business settings. In business you take control of the WHY by making a clear and graphic business case argument. One of the best graphics to use is a Y resting on its side. decision treeThis graphic allows you to focus a leader’s attention on the reality that they are at a crossroads. The correct decision will lead to an upward path towards greater growth and profitability. The wrong decision will lead to a steep and steady decline. The gap between the upward path and the downward path is the cost of not making the decision you’re advocating. You will need evidence and data to back up your graphic. But the visual depiction of the consequences of not making the right decision is what will stand out in the optic nerves in the heads of your leaders. Our brains are dominated by our optic nerves system which enables us to visualize. This triggers fear-of-loss emotions which are necessary to make hard decisions.

7ed2db41-8d4d-47de-9038-d12ac541fcad Negotiating
3. Be confident. William Ury the co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Projectnoticed that people who have already decided they could live with a no-deal option negotiated in a much more emotionally powerful way than people who felt they had to make a deal no matter what. He called this knowing your ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’ or BATNA. What he discovered is that when negotiators had accepted their BATNA they had the mind of a Samurai. This is a state-of-mind that results in getting the deal they wanted more often. Samurai are trained to “die before they go into battle.” This simply means they accept the possibility that fighting for their noble cause might lead to their death, and that was okay. This enabled them to fight with more skill, bravery and confidence than if they approach their battles fearfully. You can attain a similar, confident mindset by pre-accepting consequences of not being able to make a deal. Always remember that there are many times when getting “half a loaf” is worse than getting no bread. I have often seen projects approved without the resources or funding that makes their success possible. It is better to walk away than make a bad deal.

You can attain a similar, confident mindset by pre-accepting consequences of not being able to make a deal.

4. Give first. Recent university research confirms that you are more likely to have your way with powerful people if you use persuasive phrasing. This means that you tell the powerful person what they get first before you make a request for what you get. This is very simple and you can try it out now. “I’ll work Saturday if you give me my bonus.” Is more effective than “If you give me my bonus, I will work Saturday.” Another might be “I’ll paint the dresser now if I can go to the football game later” which works better than “If I can go to the football game later, I will paint the dresser now.” Psychologists believe that giving the person you’re negotiating with what they want first makes them less defensive and more agreeable. It ‘feels’ like they are giving up less to get what they want.

Psychologists believe that giving the person you’re negotiating with what they want first makes them less defensive and more agreeable.

5. Take charge of the time of day you negotiate. If you have a complicated problem that requires a lot of creative problem-solving, risk-taking or thinking out-of-the-box, make sure you schedule negotiating sessions mid-morning. Ideally sometime between 9 am and 11 am. Complex resolutions take a lot of mental energy. When groups are asked to multiply compound numbers like 96 x 74 at 10 am about 40% will voluntarily turn their phone into a calculator or reach for a pen to do a hand computation. If you asked a similar group to do that multiplication at 3 pm about 15% of people will work on the problem. The rest of the group will wait for someone else to do it. The difference is that we have more mental energy in the morning and are usually not hungry for lunch until 11:30 am or so. Researchers confirm that tired, hungry people do not want to change the status quo so don’t negotiate difficult issues when people are not at their energetic best.

Researchers confirm that tired, hungry people do not want to change the status quo so don’t negotiate difficult issues when people are not at their energetic best.

In summary SMART Power Negotiating enables you to negotiate with anyone no matter how powerful they are. That’s a condition of life and something that all of us need to become better at if we have any hope of creating a better world.