Thursday, April 6, 2023

Fifteen Tools to Turn the Tide in a Negotiation?

 Seth Freeman’s upcoming book, 15 Tools to Turn the Tide, provides lots of scenarios to which his fifteen tools have been applied. As the title suggests, most of the scenarios have a crisis, catastrophe or conflict as the starting point. The book’s value comes in the acronyms (what Professor Freeman calls mnemonics): I FORESAW IT, APSO, WIN-LOSE are some of them, with the foremost being the main one. Underlying his tools are principles of kindness, generosity and respect and a desire for win-win agreements. Though he recognizes that his “students” may abuse their negotiating expertise, he hopes they recognize the biblical and Spider-Man’s dictum that great power entails great responsibility. While citing General Eisenhower’s secret weapon of generating harmony among rivals, he exhorts us to negotiate in a way that brings contentedness, wholeness to everyone (the Jewish concept of shalom).

Freeman’s mnemonics easily guide negotiators from having to remember others’ elaborate tactics (like Roger Dawson’s 40 rules, principles and gambits). Though the author encourages fact finding, it lacked much discussion on good, non-leading open-ended questions. I was particularly struck that Freeman highlights some of Harvard professor Mnookin’s work and yet neglected a former FBI negotiator Chris Voss’ advice on becoming the “smartest person in the room” by utilizing these types of questions. Voss beat Mnookin in a staged but surprise kidnapping by asking questions such as “How would I get that kind of money to pay the ransom?” Thus making his problem their problem, making their request into a problem.  In my thirty-plus year career in business, negotiating customer complaints, supplier issues, customer contracts, these are some of the best tools. Freeman’s tools start with researching the other’s (and our own) interests, facts and options. Open-ended questions are important, especially if you listen deeply and empathetically as Freeman suggests.

Even though Freeman discusses dealings with “Godzillas” and junkyard dogs, and provides a few strategies for dealing with them by de-escalating the situation or isolating them from the negotiation or getting allies involved, I was wondering just how Freeman would handle a narcissistic Godzilla—and I’ve had a few bosses like this—when it seems no amount of persuasion helps and the facts become fluid. Donald Trump in his book The Art of the Deal talks about “fighting back and fighting back hard.” This has been proven by his record in litigation that, according to USA Today in 2016, showed he entered into more litigation than a half-dozen, larger real estate developers combined. Some of those lawsuits had to do with non-payment to construction contractors. If you find you couldn’t walk away (win-win or no deal, right?), and the deal goes sour, what’s the best strategy for recovering shalom when the Godzilla is as rabid and tenacious as a junkyard dog?

I would recommend this book for every business person, who may or may not have to negotiate, because Freeman’s tools are also helpful in problem-solving some project team dynamics, budget discussions, etc.

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