The Bayonet

Wednesday, Oct. 09, 2013

Expert says negotiation is a discipline

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Negotiation tactics were the topic of conversation Oct. 2, as students from the Maneuver Captains Career Course attended a lecture by negotiation expert Jeff Weiss.

Weiss, a faculty member at both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is the founder and co-director of the West Point Negotiation Project, an effort to enhance the ability of military leaders to negotiate in complex, challenging situations during both war and peace.

Weiss said the key is negotiation needs to be practiced and honed.

“The biggest thing to remember is negotiation is a discipline,” he said. “It’s not something that you’re either good at or not good at. It’s not just an art or something we wing. We would not prepare for a maneuver or create a strategy or do any variety of things without good preparation, a plan and a set of choices.”

Weiss also stressed to Soldiers that while many people think negotiation is all about concession, there is much more to being a good negotiator than coming to a compromise.

“I would think about negotiation as a key leader skill,” he said. “I would think about negotiation as being something that is far more complicated than trading concessions and making compromise. In fact, I would try to get the concept of compromise as the end goal out of one’s mind. I think about negotiation as something that involves truly engaging in joint problem solving and creativity.”

Weiss presented a framework for negotiation that uses seven key elements to guide negotiators.

According to Weiss, the elements are: relationship, communication, interests, options, legitimacy, alternatives and commitment.

In this framework, the relationship between the negotiating parties and the ability of the two parties to communicate before coming to the negotiating table affect negotiations at the table.

Each party’s interests can be used while at the table to determine creative solutions and options for the negotiation. From there, the options are compared with each party’s interests to determine the legitimacy of each option.

Finally, alternatives can be determined if an agreement cannot be reached and commitments can be made if there is an agreeable solution for both parties.

“That interplay between interests, options, legitimacy, alternatives and commitments becomes very important,” Weiss said. “How one manages relationships and builds trust to solve problems and how one manages communication perceptions, such as agenda and cross-cultural differences are also important.”

Weiss has extensive experience in business negotiation. He said the gap between military negotiation and business negotiation is not as wide as some might think.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of commonality,” he said. “People are people, whether you’re trying to influence them to do one thing or influence them to do another thing. The core process skills — how one gets in the other party’s shoes, how one solves problems, how one manages perceptions, how one changes the game in negotiation, how one gets creative — are quite similar, if not the same.”

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