Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's all about interests, not positions

That's the way into win-win negotiations

How to do win-win negotiations
Remember Camp David Accords after the Six-Day War back in 1967? It was one of the toughest negotiations in recent times and it as a successful one. It was tough because of the context but mainly because Egypt and Israel had different positions that could never happen simultaneously - they both wanted the Sinai Peninsula to be theirs. There was no way that the Sinai Peninsula could be simultaneously part of Egypt and Israel. But they found a solution, and both won! How did they do it?
This post isn't about history, religion or war, it's about negotiation. And the Camp David Accords provides some good examples Project Managers can use. Oh that's true, Project Managers must be negotiators, haven't you noticed?
In this picture, from left to right: Menachem Begin (Israeli Prime Minister), Jimmy Carter (United States President), Anwar El Sadat (Egyptian President)

Project Managers are negotiators
This is no big news, but it's good to keep this in mind. Let's have a go on the why's first. Project Managers deal with people and where there's people there's a conflict of interests. Plus, Project Managers deal with people on different sides of the battlefield, on one side people that do stuff and on the other side people that run businesses. And on top of that, a Project Manager is himself dealing with tough balances because of what he/she does: the balance between time, scope and cost, the balance between a sponsor who wants the project's results to go on with the business and the fact that you have to get those results somehow (even when you don't know what they are for), and also the balance between a happy and motivated team and a result oriented and productive team. And I didn't even mentioned sub contractors, different objectives inside the organization, different professional views (ever worked with an engineer and a marketeer on the same project?) and so on... In any of these different types of situations there are conflicts for you, the Project Manager, to manage and so you have to negotiate, you have to get what you need to get the job done and you have to give something back.

Yet another example
Ever heard the oranges tale? Two kids where fighting over a couple of oranges because they both wanted them. The fight goes bad enough to make the parents step in and make the kids share the oranges so each of them got one single orange. Both the kids were mad at each other because they both needed the two oranges. But they went to do what they needed the oranges for anyway, although there were not enough oranges for none of the kids to do what they wanted to. So one kid cuts his orange in half, squeezes both halfs and gets half a glass of orange juice. And the other kid got a grater and after grating his orange used the zest to make an orange cake.

About positions and interests
Positions are what you want to get in a negotiation. Interests are reasons (root causes, if you will) why you want what you want. Anyone can discuss positions in a negotiation, right? You just say what you want and that's it. And the fact is that most times that's enough, so you kind of get used to it. But what happens if the other side wants the very same thing you want like the two oranges in the above example or the Six Day War? Usually there's a fight. Again, that's what happened with the two kids and the Six Day War. What if they told each other what they wanted the oranges for, the "why" part? Both oranges could be used to both the kids' purposes, one wanted the juice and the other the zest so that could be done. The problem is that when someone wants what you want you're "programmed" to fight for it, you fight for what you want; that's what you have learned ever since you were a baby: you cry and hey, get milk! No one remembers to stop and ask: why do you want that? And even if you did remember to ask that, probably the other side would be defensive. Probably they would think you were gathering information to attack on another front. So the other side must cooperate too! Going from positions to interests is tough and it takes both sides to do it. And it takes both sides to be honest and trustful. So it seems that getting to interests on a negotiation is getting tougher and tougher...

Back to Egypt and Israel
The exact same thing happened with the Camp David Accords. Both sides wanted the Sinai Peninsula and both sides were right at some extent, at least they could both give a logical reason for wanting it. So how did they do it? They moved from positions to interests. Now how do you put Arabs, Jews, cooperation, honesty and trust in the same sentence? It's not an easy task, that's for sure. What I think they did was to let their guard down, bit by bit. Honesty and trust can't be won in an instant, it always takes time to build (and a moment to lose).
And to worsen things, some of these steps you take to gain trust can be quite the opposite. At the time, Sadat said in a speech that he would travel anywhere to discuss peace, Israel included. Shortly after, the Israeli government stated that Israel would invite Sadat to Israel if they ever thought that Sadat would accept the invitation. And eventually, Sadat went to Israel... This is what I meant with bit by bit. You give a little, the other side gives a little, then you give a little more, the other side too, and so on. Until you reach things really big, like the first visit ever (I think) of an Arab President to Israel. But please notice that this break through was done based on insinuations and second intentions - not honesty and trust. But the end result proved there was trust - at a  minimum, more trust than before. Nevertheless, no one ever states in a negotiation everything, you must always go through this process of giving a little bit turn by turn, you give and then the other side gives.
Finally the arrangement they made was something like this: the Sinai Peninsula was still part of Egypt (that was the interest of Egypt as it always has been a part of Egypt) and Israel would patrol parts of that territory (their interest was security). Straight and simple, isn't it?

And win-win negotiations again
We hear a lot about win-win negotiations and how important they are. I agree. But in order to do it you have to go after interests, not positions. So keep this in mind: when discussing interests there must be cooperation from the other side and both sides have to be honest and trustful. If on the other side of the table there's someone who doesn't cooperate, who is dishonest or not trustworthy, forget about win-win. In these cases it will get too much time and work to get anywhere. Unless, of course, the prize is big enough, like the Camp Davis Accord case.
And that's another thing to remember. Win-win is good but there are other options. And sometimes, in fact I'd say most of the times, you should go for other options. Win-win takes time, and sometimes you just don't have enough of it.

But in most cases...
But in most cases, like for Project Managers, you should keep it simple. Win-win negotiations usually take much longer so go for them when it's worth while the effort. And what can Project Managers use from all this? If you don't have cooperation, honesty and trust built into your team you are in deep trouble - and you must have bigger worries than win-win negotiations. But if you do have them in your team, you can for win-win negotiations with your team as I'm certain that in many cases it's worth the effort. And so teams look like one good target for win-win negotiations.
But to do that the teams have to know about win-win also and in many cases you don't have that. So how do you teach them about win-win? My best guess for a good approach on this is to introduce the "interests" topic slowly. And I'd bet on the 5 whys to start with (more on that on but for a short explanation, the basic idea is to keep on asking why until you get a root cause for a problem). So if you set this technique inside your team you have a good chance of switching from positions to interests and the following example dialog is then possible to have with anyone on your team:

Team member: I'm sorry but I can't do this task, you should ask someone else to do it.
Project Manager: Why not?
TM: Because there are people that know much more about it than I do and they should do it.
PM: Right, and so they can also do it. But why can't you?
TM: I've just told you I don't know enough about it.
PM: Well, if I though you didn't know enough about it I wouldn't have asked you to do it. I think you can do it.
TM: What if i try and fail? On my last project one guy didn't get the bonus at the end of the project because he couldn't do a task on his responsability.
PM: So that's your problem? You're afraid you get punished if you fail?
TM: Well... yes.
PM: No problem then. You do that task. If you fail I'll get you some training all the rest stays the same. Ok?
TM: Ok.

And the message is...
Negotiation is part of the Project Managers job. And win-win negotiations are the ones that bring the most benefits. But in order to do that you have to:
  • Go from positions to interests
  • Be cooperative and get cooperation
  • Be honest and expect honesty
  • Trust and be trustful
  • Be able to invest in time and effort
And remember that win-win negotiations bring the most benefits but demand a big effort so many times you have better options other than win-win. So if you keep this in mind then you can be a better negotiator. As negotiation is a skill needed for Project Management...
Then you can be a better Project Manager!

One final note
I'm not much into history so forgive me any inaccuracy about the Camp Davis Accords story. The purpose of using it was exclusively to illustrate how to go from positions to interests in a negotiation.

Images taken from Wikipedia, Home Cook'n, Adventures in unemployment and Search Engine People.

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Bob's Beer Blog said...

A very good post Luis. Thanks for pointing out examples of how to reach a mutually beneficial result. It isn't always about "positions of strength" then, but about aligning interests.


Luis Seabra Coelho said...

Thank you for your comment Bob.
And I'm sorry for the late reply, somehow I left your comment unanswered...
And you're absolutely right, the problem with aligning interests is that it's not a *natural* thing for us to do, we tend to jump that and to try to get what we want as we believe that's our objective in a negotiation. And that turns into a roadblock if we start from there.
Thank you once again.