So just exactly what is a crisis? Let us agree that at every firm the definition of what a crisis is can differ. I think that most of us could agree that a crisis is probably an unexpected event that everyone agrees represents a high-priority issue that needs to be solved. When a crisis occurs, most companies can shift swiftly and efficiently from day-to-day operations into crisis-management mode. In the world of negotiations, a crisis can involve a tumble in the company’s stock price, a building evacuation, or even a product recall. How can a negotiator use his or her negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to help his or her company get though a crisis effectively?
The one thing that you don’t want to have happen is to be surprised when a crisis is suddenly upon you. Instead, your company can benefit from putting crisis-management plans in place before anything happens. As an example, during talks with a new business partner, discuss the possibility of a dispute arising during the life of your contract and how you might handle it.
For example, you might insert a clause requiring that you meet regularly to discuss problems that have come up and how to address them. You might also include contract provisions for dispute resolution, such as requiring the parties to engage in mediation before filing a lawsuit. Taking steps like this can help to ensure that if a crisis does show up, you’ll see it coming and you’ll be ready for it.
Come Up With Some Ground Rules
Sure, you’ll try your hardest to avoid getting your company into a crisis but somethings that just isn’t possible. Bang – there you are. If you do find yourself in the midst of a crisis negotiation, take time before you begin substantive talks to establish the ground rules. For example, you might suggest that you make an explicit commitment to being honest and to following up your promises with actions.
The people who deal with hostage situations tell us that hostage negotiators earn hostage takers’ trust by being honest with them. Ground rules establish a foundation for trust, and they also give you room to say no to extreme demands that the other side may try to impose on you. Hostage negotiators find that hostage takers become more willing to accept a denial of their requests when they believe they are being treated ethically. Use this information in your next crisis negotiation.
Deal With Emotions
Any sort of crisis situation will tend to bring out the emotions in everyone who is involved. Once again, we can turn to the hostage negotiators in order to get guidance on how best to deal with our own emotions. Hostage negotiators have developed effective strategies for managing those emotions. These negotiators stress the importance of listening carefully to a hostage taker’s demands with the goal of identifying his primary underlying problem or motivation.
Common hostage negotiation tactics include managing the hostage taker’s anxieties through active-listening techniques, such as self-disclosure, paraphrasing, and supportive remarks. Similarly, business negotiators dealing with a crisis need to remember that time spent exploring the emotions behind a counterpart’s stated positions is never time wasted. We need to keep in mind that what the other side is saying may not really be what they mean.
Take Your Time
Due to the excitement that often surrounds a crisis negotiation, we can very quickly start to feel rushed. We may start to believe that we need to get this negotiation wrapped up as quickly as possible. Somewhat surprisingly, hostage negotiators advise us to slow down the negotiation process.
Their thinking is that because hostage takers’ strong emotions have a tendency to de-escalate over time, negotiators suggest patience. A hostage negotiator’s thinking is that time is on their side and so they can go ahead and take all of the time that they feel that they need. Working methodically through a charged situation is usually the best approach for a negotiator.
It’s All About Relationships
Your relationship with the other side of the table is going to end up playing a big role in how the negotiations turn out. As an example, when a police negotiator tells a hostage taker, “We’re in this together,” he’s not just saying that to calm the other side down.
Rather, the negotiator is trying to create the kind of bond that will allow the parties to find a solution to the crisis together. Similarly, in the business world, the other side’s problem is your problem also, so you need to focus on collaborating on an agreement that satisfies you both.
What All Of This Means For You
Every principled negotiation can be a challenge. However, at times your company or you may find yourselves facing a full-on crisis. If this happens, then all of a sudden the old rules for how you deal with a negotiation can go out the window and we need to come up with a different plan for how we’re going to reach a deal with the other side.
There’s no reason that you need to be surprised by a crisis. Instead, take the time to talk with partners and business associates and make sure that you have contingency plans in place in case the unexpected happens. Every negotiation needs to have some ground rules and a crisis negotiation is no different. Use your ground rules to set up trust between both sides. Emotions will play a big role in any high-stakes crisis negotiation. Make sure that you manage your emotions and those of the other side. Don’t feel rushed, it turns out that even in a crisis negotiation you really have all of the time in the world. Finally, realize that the way that you’re going to be able to reach a deal with the other side is by creating relationship with them. Take your time and do this correctly.
No, a crisis negotiation is not fun. It’s an even higher level of stress than you are used to in your normal negotiations. However, the good news is that the people who deal with these types of negotiations all the time have some great suggestions for how we can go about getting to the deal that we need. Take your time and treat your next crisis negotiation just like you’d treat any negotiation and you just might be surprised at how well it turns out.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™
Question For You: In a crisis negotiation, do you think that it is better to go it alone or should you have a team with you?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
When you walk into a negotiation, you know what you want to use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to get out of the negotiation. However, just exactly how you are going to make that happen may still be a bit of a mystery. However, in order to get what you want, you need to make sure that you have the power that you need in order to influence the other side to give you what you are looking for. As a negotiator, this means that you are going to have to identify your sources of power and understand how to go about using them.