Don't confuse negotiating with persuasion

Published: Aug 06 , 2015
Author: Mike Freedman

I was recently invited to teach at a company that purchases the debts of financial institutions and then pursues the people that owe the money.  This company buys the debts through a tender process and they then present the debtors with the facts about the law and the unpleasant consequences of non-payment. 

They called Scotwork because they wanted to improve their negotiations with debtors. They said that they were talking to a number of companies who had issued quotations to them for negotiation training. 

I told them as politely as possible that they were wasting their money.

For negotiation to take place a relationship needs to exist between the parties.  Based upon the parties’ understanding of one another, a negotiation involves a trading process. 

“To Persuade” in my dictionary is described as a verb.  It probably shouldn’t be.  Persuasion is just an outcome.  It is the consequence of objective targeted information sharing.  To be “persuasive” we need to have the ability to present information free from our personal opinion.  What we call “fact-based.” The reality is, that as soon as you have to say “according to me” or “I believe” then your argument just got a little weaker.  Most participants depend largely upon persuasion during the first live case plays of the Scotwork Course.  Often we ask their management whether in their working environment they have sufficient objective data provided by the business to best present the case for the business.  This question often provokes the business to adopt a new approach.

The vast majority of us in our working lives have regular encounters with conflict in internal and external discussions where we have a relationship with the other party, commercial or personal.  I think a little difference of opinion is healthy.  Let’s face it, resistance to your ideas is a lot easier to deal with than indifference.

So if you know what the other party wants, then after you’ve tried persuasion and failed (you almost always will) then give them what they want on your terms.  Find some things that are relatively important to you and relatively easy for the other side to give.  In Scotwork we call this the wish list.  Of course, if a wish list is prepared before the meeting discussions are easier and trading comes naturally. 

Almost everybody in every situation where a conflict arises in relationship can negotiate, but people instinctively prefer persuasion.  They prefer persuasion because the envisaged successful outcome will involve no cost to them. For that reason persuasion takes on an enormous importance out of balance with the reality. 

The prospect of success through persuasion depends on having most of the power on your side of the table, where you have something the other party desperately wants, or like the business I referred to above, if you hold in your hand a threat that they are desperate to avoid.   If you hold all the power you don’t need to negotiate, you just need to bring the power to the agenda.  The other party will probably be persuaded.

We teach people to trade when they find themselves in conflict and by the end of the first day of the course, persuasion looks like a very poor alternative to negotiation.

Mike Freedman 


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