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What You'll Learn In Today's Episode

  • Both the relationship and the substance are important. However, these aren’t mutually exclusive. Many negotiating attempts fail because someone favored one aspect while neglecting the other.
  • Seek to establish the relationship first. Substantive issues are important, but you’ll never get to them without some kind of rapport. The best outcomes are preceded by establishing trust.
  • The only route to mutual trust is sometimes through taking that initial risk, yourself. Model the integrity and respect you’d like to see from your counterpart. Sincerely pause to listen as much as you speak.
  • Cultivate empathy within yourself toward the other side. The real thing is hard to fake. It often opens doors that condescension or aggressive posturing couldn’t.

Watch This Episode On NEGOTIATEx TV

Executive Summary:

Welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast! Today, Aram and Nolan discuss managing working relationships. This is not as simple as it may sound. In fact, a lot of people aren’t sure how to do it well. As a result, bridges get burnt and negotiations fail.

Have you ever wondered how things went sideways so fast? The root cause, in many cases, is mishandling the relationship. You can’t neglect the substance of a potential agreement, either. Therefore, you need a balance between the two.

Counterproductive Choices

Small talk at the beginning doesn’t necessarily establish how the parties will interact. Nolan and Aram have sometimes seen people weirdly switch gears: A minute ago, they seemed perfectly reasonable… but suddenly they have become aggressive and demanding.

This creates two very different conversations that happen awkwardly at once. It’s usually because someone has jumped to the wrong conclusion: They think that they have only 2 options; pursuing their goals or relating to the other side.

Eager to protect their interests, they hurriedly stake claims. Meanwhile, they slam the door, interpersonally. Any potential for mutual understanding is abandoned at the curb.

Aram and Nolan avoid this approach. Instead, embrace both factors. Seek outcomes that are ideal substantively and strengthen the relationship.

Another mistake some negotiators make is trying to sell relationships. They seek quid pro quo by specifying demands in exchange for a better relationship.

For example, someone might say, “Get me a better price and then I’ll trust you more.” This give-me-substance-if-you-want-relationship strategy doesn’t tend to work.

On the other hand, some parties naively focus exclusively on the relationship side. Don’t stop applying the Golden Rule. At the same time, if you trust strangers blindly, you’ll most likely lose your shirt.

The opposite of naivete is operating entirely reaction-based. People taking this route put up no trust whatsoever. Their stance is 100% an-eye-for-an-eye from the start. Consequently, favorable outcomes spiral out of reach.

Empathize For Elevated Influence

Certainly, you can’t control anyone else’s behavior. Nevertheless, avoiding a lopsided approach increases your odds of success.

Recognize that there will be a mixture of relationship and substantive issues involved. Consciously separate the two in order to deal with each part on its own merits.

Handle the relationship aspects first. These issues will get in the way if they’re not handled early. In fact, you can’t make substantive progress if they haven’t been.

Put another way, no one is going to problem-solve with someone they don’t trust. They won’t share their concerns, needs, or motivations. Likewise, don’t expect them to engage in unfettered brainstorming.

Conversely, there’s tangible value in shared trust. When both parties work together, far better options become possibilities.

Don’t neglect the maintenance-end of relationships, either. Most people know how to begin one or work on an old one. However, maintaining a working one is vital for negotiators.

Make contact with clients or key contacts periodically. Avoid limiting interactions to just when you need something. Sometimes just asking how they are can mean a lot.

Treat people respectfully, as well. Start by speaking only for yourself. Let them relate their perspectives, uninterrupted. Next, pause rather than filling space.

Afterward, substantive issues can be settled on the parties’ concerns and needs. Solve them together, by developing as many feasible solutions as possible.

From there, you can select the best options by applying fair and reasonable objective criteria.

Key Takeaways

  • Discipline yourself. If you do, it will reflect as show respect, develop rapport, and establish your reputation as a negotiator. It’s an asset in life overall, too.
  • Manage your emotions. You can step back from things without being rude or impersonal. Logic works best outside of extreme states like anger or despair.
  • Strive for transparency and trust. Integrity is a two-way street. Take the gamble of modeling it on your end, first. You’re unlikely to reach ideal outcomes without it.
  • Give us a 5-star rating at Apple, Spotify, or where ever you listen from if you’re receiving value (please). Your feedback helps us to grow. If you like what you’re hearing, share the NEGOTIATEx podcast with a friend, too.

Nolan and Aram have more elevating negotiation strategies in today’s NEGOTIATEx podcast. Questions to team@negotiatex.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop by negotiatex.com and leave feedback, either. There’s a downloadable prep tool there for you.

Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!


Nolan Martin : Welcome to the NegotiateX Podcast, I am your co-host and co-founder Nolan Martin. And with me today is my co-host and co-founder Aram Donigian. And Aram, how are you doing today, sir?

Aram Donigion : I’m doing great, Nolan. Thank you for the intro. And how are you doing?

NM : I'm good. I've hoped that you appreciate me not having a crazy intro for you, like last time

AD : I do appreciate that.

NM : I know you hate it so we will continue on.

AD : Good.

How Does Aram Approach Managing Working Relationships? [1:49]

NM : Well, I'm excited for today because we're talking about managing working relationships. I know that a lot of the people in the community seem to have a difficult time. We, you know, we get approached about this a lot that they seem to, to not be able to let's say not burn bridges whenever they're going through a negotiation. So how about we approach this topic today? How's that sound?

AD : Sounds great! Yeah, I'm going to be really frank. I don't think most people understand how to manage working relationships very well. And those that claim that they do actually practice some pretty ineffective relationship strategies.

NM : Ooh, this should be good. So what is, what do you think that is? And what do most people not understand?

AD : I’m convinced that everyone, on some level they see negotiation as a trade-off between the substantive things that are negotiating over, okay, things like price, volume, quality, different specs, terms around flexibility or guarantees and so forth. It's a tradeoff between those things and the relationship, the level of trust, respect, and understanding. So that's, you know, how people, how they share information, how they communicate so forth, they believe that one has to come at the cost of the other and that's deeply embedded – I'm just, I'm convinced that that's true.

NM : Yeah. So people that push hard on the substance of the deal, tend to damage the relationship versus people who preserve the relationship tend to get worse substantive outcomes.

AD : Yeah. That would be the correct perceived bilateral choice that many people feel that they're making.

NM : And, you don't agree that that's the correct choice?

AD : No, not at all, I don't think it's the choice that needs to be made; and it's only that way because of how people are negotiating, how we approach this idea of negotiation. Personally, my goal is to negotiate outcomes that are really good substantively and strengthen the relationship.

NM : Sure, because if that substantive outcome is to be effectively implemented, which I mean after all is the reason why we negotiate.

AD : Right.

NM : You might need a strong relationship to do so.

AD : Yeah, exactly.

NM : Okay. So you say it at the beginning that people who get this idea still end up practicing ineffective relationship strategies. I mean, it seems kind of counterintuitive. What do you mean by that?

AD : Well, I think that the strategies that people try to implement actually range quite a bit. I see folks who think that this small talk, chit-chat at the very beginning of the negotiation is developing the relationship. And then when they get into the negotiation and all these nice, these have been established, they kind of set those things aside and it's really crazy, but it's actually like, they, you can hear it in their tone. It's, they shift? And it's like two totally different conversations weirdly happening at the same time.

NM : Yeah. I've totally seen that too. It's like, they, I mean, excuse my language, but they come like a total ass, like all of a sudden, so yep. Totally seen that too. What else do you see?

AD : I also see people trying to buy the relationship. Now, they don't frame it that way, but in essence, that's what they're trying to do. They're practicing some of that old fashioned Quid Pro Quo and they're really caught up between, you know, good relationship and good substance, you know, “get me this better price” and “I'll trust you more”, you know, we'll talk a bit more in a moment. It doesn't tend to work or people tend to naively try to practice the golden rule, blindly trusting the counterpart, which gets you taken or the reactionary ‘eye for an eye’ ‘tooth for a tooth’. Right. Which unfortunately leads to a terrible spiral of doom. And that's often based on perceived behaviors of the other party.

NM : Yeah. So all those, all those ways suck. So what's some better ways that we can do this.

AD : [Laughs] Your technical language today, Nolan is fantastic. Okay. So the first thing is to recognize that in any negotiation, there is almost always some mixture of relationship and subsequent issues occurring. So we need to identify those issues. Okay, these two different buckets, relationship and substantive issues, separate them. And then we're going to deal with each of them on their own merits. And we're going to deal with the relationship issues first.

NM : Okay. So you said deal with them on their own merits. I want to kind of dig deeper into that. So what do you mean by that?

AD : Okay. So we've discussed a lot in the past on how you deal with substantive issues, right? So these are the terms of any agreement, and those should be settled on parties, concerns, and needs those things that we would call interests. They should be solved through developing as many possible solutions that is, you know, as feasible options, what we call options. And then, we select, or refine those options through some sort of evaluation – the application of a fair, reasonable objective criteria, again, that thing we call legitimacy.

NM : Yeah. And so we've talked about relationship in the past. Now, why, why are we going to deal with relationship first?

Aram On Why One Should Deal With Relationship Issues Over Substantive Issues [06:55]

AD : So first and then also how. The reason that we negotiate or we deal with the relationship issues first is they're going to get in the way of tackling those substantive issues. I mean, no one is going to problem-solve with someone they don't trust. They're not going to share their concerns, needs, motivations with that person. They aren't going to engage in this joint problem solving approach of unfettered, brainstorming with a person they don't trust or they sense doesn't respect them. And they're certainly not going to trust any so-called standards that person may present. The idea here is that there is real tangible value when operating in a trustful environment

NM : You know, that's pretty interesting here. I know we've, we've both kind of seen this at the tangible value, for instance, like on deployments, right? There's tangible value when both you and your partner both understand that you need to essentially provide security and you're both working together. You have trust. And basically you're working towards one thing. For instance, one of my deployments, it was a bad time when, when there was green on blue, which means that there was a few bad partners who were shooting Americans. And it was a couple bad apples in the bunch. So don't want anybody to think negatively on this. It was a difficult time because, you know, we're still trying to work with our partners to secure Afghanistan. So we still need to engage our partners. We still needed to be transparent and we still needed to provide security for the region. So we still need to talk to them. We still need to work on the relationship to get at the tangible value of providing security. So it's definitely something that I know we both seen as, something that we've, we both have to maintain and to operate in a trustful environment, even in a difficult times like that.

AD : Yeah, that was a great example. Most of our listeners, aren't going to be applying these concepts in that stressful of an environment that you're describing, right? And the principles still apply – this idea that we should focus on relationship first, develop it, focus on how we engage with each other, how we treat each other before digging into the problem-solving about whatever the problem is, right? So let's codify if it's okay, let's codify some of these better approaches to building, maintaining, even repairing relationships, doing things that are going to be good for the relationship, things that are going to be good for you, good for them regardless of whether they reciprocate or not. And these are things that I'm going to call unconditionally constructive strategies.

NM : And I want to kind of dig deeper into the strategies that you're talking about here. I think, you know, most people either think about, we either need to establish a new relationship, we either need to work on an old relationship, but I don't think we really talk about how do we maintain a relationship?

AD : Yeah. Most people don't. They tend to approach a client, like contact only when they need something. Now I had a tremendous boss in Afghanistan who made a point of meeting with people just to check in and to see what they need, to see how they are. And our partners really appreciate it. It helped us build some lasting relationships, relationships that last to this day, but he was, he was a rarity though.

NM : All right. So then kind of tell us more about these unconditionally constructive strategies.

Aram On Unconditionally Constructive Strategies [10:25]

AD : The first one is to treat people with respect and there are a number of ways that we can do that. When we discuss things, speak for yourself, don't speak for them, let them fill in their own blanks, don't finish their sentences. Don't even try to capture their ideas, let them speak for themselves. Pause. Don't let don't fill the space, let them fill it, consult with them before deciding something, people appreciate being asked. They appreciate being engaged in the process. Avoid coercion, use the test of reciprocity. “Would I appreciate being treated this way, the way that I'm treating them, would I appreciate that?” That separates an intent from impact; so give people the benefit of the doubt, when things go awry, like ‘what are they really trying to do’ versus ‘the impact of it is having on me.’ Those are two separate things and then finally consider joint contribution rather than blaming. And as I do that, start with my role in the process

NM : Yeah. I think this is definitely a lot, but I know it also kind of seems like it's common sense. So is it that simple? Is it common sense ways to treat people?

AD : You would think that, right. These are things we probably should have just learned in kindergarten.

NM : So then why, why do we get lost during the negotiation?

AD : You know, again, I think it's this confusion that I mentioned at the beginning, which is this tension between getting a good substantive outcome and the belief that we have to choose between and a relationship. People are problem solvers. Its why, when I walk into a room with clients, they're all a lot of Type A personalities, who've been incredibly successful in their careers. They are fixated on getting things done and they tend to get fixated on this false choice between relationship and substance, that leads them to doing things that if they were to step out for a moment, they know are contrary to being truly effective and even contrary to who they are as people.

NM : You know, this kind of reminds me of the book ‘Getting To Yes’, where, you know, you're soft on the people, but hard on the problem, and if you're interested in that book, we'll have a link in the show notes, you just go to negotiatex.com/8 and that will have a link to ‘Getting To Yes’. It's an awesome book and it kind of talks about this. Sorry, go ahead, Aram.

AD : Yeah. Well, that maxim that you just shared from ‘Getting To Yes’, you know, is really true and it's a great transition to some of the other advice that I would share. You know, another relationship strategy or move is to explore problems side by side. That can be figurative. It can be literal too. There's power, when we actually sit on the same side of the table with someone, with my counterpart and what happens is rather than being fixated on each other as the problem, we can together -- we can focus on the problem -- solving this problem, whatever the issue is before us, we can solve on working on it together side to side.

NM : I think that kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier is I, I imagine something like that requires a lot of trust and transparency to be able to do that and be effective.

AD : Yeah, it really does. You know, so we need to be wholly trustworthy. We're protecting our reputation as negotiators, as leaders, as people and at the same time, we don't have to be wholly trusting, it’s that old Ronald Reagan quote about ‘trust, but verify’. And we need to be able to frame conversations, discussions in ways that demonstrate a real willingness to understand their views; while not necessarily committing to agreeing with those views.

NM : Yeah, now, earlier you had mentioned, we don't want to buy relationships and we would get to it later in the podcast. So kind of wanted to circle back on that. What were you, what were you kind of talking about there?

Aram On The Demerits Of ‘Buying Relationships [14:11]

AD : Yeah. I mean, no-one's going to frame it as buying a relationship, but oftentimes what they will do is make a substantive concession. Okay. So concede on some term price or some negotiation term and believe that somehow that's benefiting the relationship. Okay. I've never seen that work now. I’m not saying that I haven't seen people try it or even accept it, you know, the other party is going to happily accept a concession from you. But the question is, did that really do anything to increase trust, right? Nolan, would you, would you trust me any more if I gave you a thousand dollars? Or how about, let's say $10,000? Could you trust me more for 10,000?

NM : [Laughs] Let's go ahead and find out, man, you have my bank account information. Go ahead and send that my way.

AD : Good try.

NM : No, but I get what you're saying. Like it's, I don't think, really you're not building any more trust -- you're just kind of giving me more money. I don't know if that's really achieving anything else. Certainly take it though, if you decide to do that.

AD : Yeah. The two, the two aren't connected. So we need to separate out the issues and deal with each on their own merits. Let me give you an illustration that might help clarify for some of our listeners. I like to tell the story about my 15th wedding anniversary. I was taking my wife out to dinner, this really nice expensive restaurant. We had reservations. So we got there and even with reservations, we waited for 45 minutes before we got seated. We got seated and the wait staff brought out water, dropped the glass of water, spilled the water in my lap. So, so that wasn't good. We had to wait forever to get our food. It was just incredibly slow and had to keep kind of raising our hand to get any attention, to get drinks refilled and so forth. When our main course finally arrived my wife's dish was wrong. It was not what she ordered. And it was just, it was just a very, you know, awful evening for what was supposed to be this wonderful, wonderful celebration.

NM : You have six kids, right. But then I kind of also want to back up there because you said that story and that's incredibly crappy, but then now I'm trying to like back up too, because you have six kids. So not only did the dinner go just awful, but I imagine with six kids, it's pretty difficult to be able to even go out on a date like that. I mean, how many kids did you have at your 15? I don't know.

AD : I've lost count.

NM : We'll say four to six.

AD : [Laughs] Oh, we had four, four at that time.

NM : So I imagine you had to get a babysitter and kind of set up the night. I mean, it's just probably planned out, you know, weeks in advance and then to go -- the build up and everything to have a night like that. I imagine that was pretty awful. But I'm assuming the point of the story is that they attempted to buy your, your kind of relationship here is, is that what you're getting at here?

AD : Yeah. There was clearly violation of the contract we had -- to come to a place like that and pay for a certain service. And so the question, here's a question for you is: what would it take for them to get me back there? What's it going to take for them to hit me back through their doors for another special event?

NM : I mean, this isn't like a normal restaurant, like a normal casual restaurant, the waitress could be like, “Hey, I'm sorry, here's a free meal”; like if you go to Applebee's, that's kind of what I'm expecting. But at a formal restaurant, like you're explaining, I would hope that the head manager or chef comes out and like provides a true sincere, because obviously there were several mistakes that happened throughout the night. So that's what I would expect it in that kind of situation. Is that, is that what happened?

AD : Well, no, it's not what happened, right, and it’s very, very, very disappointing, but that is what should happen, right? We should address the relationship. We should apologize. We should acknowledge that what we said we were going to do when you walked in and what we did -- were not the same thing. And that's really around the integrity of the relationship between us; and we should, you know, be able to offer some explanation or if there is no explanation, be able to offer that too. And yeah, I would expect someone to come out and, and address it on a very personal level. I love it, when any customer service agent, anybody who works with customers and clients, when they get that, the concession, giving us a meal for free, it's not going to make me trust that they're going to get it differently next time, it's not going to get me to come back next time, you've got to deal with the broken trust, the impaired relationship. And you do that through your behaviors and how you demonstrate -- demonstrate respect.

NM : Anything else you'd like to add to our list of unconditionally constructive relationship struggles or strategies? Actually, I kind of want to back up there, how did it end? So if they didn't come out and apologize,what was the outcome? I know our listeners are dying to know.

AD : Oh well, so they, I mean, they offered me a discount, which I accepted. I paid our cheque and we've never been back and nor will we go back. Again the relationship was not repaired simply by making a substantive concession, but I think a lot of folks get caught in that trap and they think that, that's going to fix it and it doesn't.

NM : Yeah. That's a kind of a missed opportunity there. Okay. So anything else you'd like to add to our list of unconditionally constructive relationship strategies?

Striking A Balance Between Emotion and Reason [19:41]

AD : Yeah. So just one more thing: we need to remember to keep emotion and reason in balance. And that is for both us and for our counterparts, we should acknowledge how things have, or are impacting us and recognize the same impact for them. Be able to name feelings and even share important feelings that we have. You know, we all love to pretend that there's no place for emotions at the negotiation table. No one has ever said in any negotiation and any meeting I've ever been involved in, no one has ever spoken these words that – ‘you know what this negotiation needs right now, more emotion!’ But the emotions are there, people's feelings are there, companies’ futures, individual's careers -- these things are all at stake when we're negotiating and how we negotiate, how we implement things, impact and so ignoring that emotions are at the tables. It's just kind of foolish.

NM : Yeah. I think managing those emotions is, has got to be critical when you're at the negotiating table. It's, it's got to be crucial.

AD : While we're not going to dive deeply right now into how you manage them, maybe that's something to do on another session. If listeners are interested, I'll be happy to do that. Let me just say that the ability to demonstrate genuine empathy is really essential. And I'm going to quote the amazing Dr. Brene Brown, if you haven't read anything by her, I highly recommend you do. She's just an amazing person, but here's what she says: she says “empathy fuels connection, it involves perspective taking, avoiding judgment, recognizing another's emotion and communicating that recognition.” As Dr. Brown says, “empathy is a choice and it's a vulnerable one.” That's, that's how we deal with people's feelings.

NM : Awesome. And I think that's just one more step towards helping our listeners elevate their influence through purposeful negotiation, which is the tagline to NegotiateX and kind of, the purpose behind the podcast. So, as I said before, this is a podcast that is all about action and helping our listeners become better negotiators. So Aram, what are some key takeaways for our listeners as they become better negotiators in their business, life or in conflict?

Aram’s Key Takeaways and Actionable Advice [22:01]

AD : Yeah. Developing a solid working relationship doesn't need to come at the cost of good substantive outcomes. It can actually enhance your ability to jointly resolve and transform conflict. So being disciplined in your attempts to show respect, develop rapport, and establish your reputation as a negotiator is really critical. And it's one you want to carry throughout your life.

NM : Yeah. I think effectively manage emotions. I think that's going to be extremely important and then transparency and trust. I mean, you need to be able to sit on the same side of the table like I said, I've personally seen this on a deployment. And then last but not least, help us out, go to wherever you're listening to this podcast, give us a five star rating, leave us a comment or review and tell others to come, check out our podcasts. It really means a lot to us and we greatly appreciate it. If you have a question that you would like for us to answer on the NegotiateX podcast, if you're watching this on YouTube, if you didn't know that we have a YouTube Channel, you can check us out on YouTube as well. You get to see our pretty faces and what we look like, but you can shoot us an email: team@negotiatex.com. If your team is trying to get better at becoming negotiators, we're offering a mastermind next year, but we've already started accepting some applications. If you will shoot us an email again, team@negotiatex.com, let us know what you're interested in, if you believe that that is something that you want, it's a full year's worth of training, more details will come out as we start approaching 2022. So I appreciate it. That is it for us on today's podcast and we will see you in the episode.

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