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Negotiating in relationships

Hopefully you are at the point in the partnership development process where negotiating the details is not the difficult and contentious process you’ve experienced in the past. Hopefully, you’re applying a new process for engaging in ‘partnershiping,’ if there is such a word, and now it’s at least a bit easier.

Yet a difficult journey can still lay waiting, so I wanted to mention this important point: negotiate the difficult among the easy.

As you negotiate, use your list of outstanding items to determine which ones qualify as “difficult” to negotiate and which ones qualify as “easy.” Some examples of traditionally difficult items include dealing with termination, exit clauses, and property rights ownership. Some examples of traditionally easy items include establishing the governance structure, clauses and warranties, and indemnification, and overall roles and responsibilities and term of agreement.

Once you have gone through and separated the difficult from the easy, plan your negotiation approach to interweave the two categories and openly discuss this process with your partner. You may find it surprising to realize that what you perceive as hard, they perceive as easy. Still, together you can agree not to address the difficult stuff all at once, so you each don’t get frustrated and find yourselves not making any progress. If you’re stuck on something, agree to knock out a few of the easy negotiations points and then get back to the difficult. This keeps the wheels turning, the momentum going, and everyone feeling content that the negotiation is moving forward.

Another critical aspect of negotiating is asking questions. Many studies show that the best negotiators are the ones that ask the most questions. On average, the best negotiators ask four times as many questions as the not so successful negotiators.

Keep yourself open to learning what’s going on behind the positions being expressed by your partner. Go deeper, ask questions that matter and engage both of you to understand what the business needs to be successful – after all, you should be well aligned at this point that you have common and mutually enriching goals. If not, then you have actually never been partnering in the first place and it’s better to go back to square one – hopefully that’s not what’s going on.

Staying close in relationship with your partner will allow you to engage in deeper inquiry. Learn to listen for underlying emotions, – fear, concern, greed, jealously – discuss them freely, and see how you can mitigate the risks or address the differences in tangible and innovative ways.

Keep in tune to these emotions and ask questions that reflect upon them appropriately. This is undoubtedly the work of leadership in partnerships and is undoubtedly a lifelong process.


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