When it comes to dismantling the toughest bargainers, one persuasive tactic William Ury, cofounder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation, writes about in his book Getting Past No falls under the umbrella of reframing. By reframing the negotiation, you’re able to use subtle differences and variations to produce remarkable differences in attitudes and behavior.
Whether it’s stonewalling, threats, or the “add-on” where someone throws in new demands at the end of a negotiation, below are three reframing strategies that can be used in the most difficult tactics. If executed properly, the result is both parties thinking of the negotiation as a joint problem-solving effort they’re tackling as partners instead of adversaries.
1. Reframe to probe for hidden interests.
In this reframing tactic, you want to ask the other party open-ended, problem-solving questions that encourage the uncovering of hidden interests. That way, you can determine what shared interests you may have that can help shift the other party from the opposing team to your side. For instance, if the counterparty won’t budge on a number, Ury suggests asking questions like, “Help me understand where that number comes from,” or, “What standard is that based on?” These kind of questions probe for interests beyond what they’re willingly telling you.
2. Reframe to see the problem through a new lens.
When the other side is giving you a difficult time, consider asking their advice on what you should do. By doing so, you’re acknowledging the other side’s status in the negotiation and stop them from seeing you as an adversary. Consider asking questions like, “What would you do if you were in my shoes? or “What if we did this instead . . . ?” When you ask the other party what they would do if they were in your shoes, you’re changing the lens they’re using to look at the current problem.
3. Reframe from "you" and "me" to "we."
When you continually place the two of you on the same side, eventually the other side will start seeing the negotiation process as collaborative.
So if they’re using “you” and “me” during the negotiation, consider making “we” statements. For instance, if your counterparty is making threats with take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums, you can reframe the conversation by saying things like, “This isn’t working. How can we move forward?” At this point, you can suggest adding, subtracting, or changing the people sitting at the bargaining table, but remember to use “we” through it all.
When All Else Fails
When reframing doesn’t work, consider a move Ury calls, “Go to the balcony.” When the negotiation isn’t heading to the destination along the path you intended, consider stepping away – to the balcony or wherever else – so that you’re able to distance yourself from any emotional reactions stirred up during the negotiation. In this place, you’re able to have a more objective perspective as opposed to being wrapped up at the center in the situation. It’s here that you can find zigzag paths to your destination.