Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Harvard Business Review Explores how the Military’s Extreme Negotiation Skills Translate into Effective Corporate Negotiations

In their November 2010 issue, Harvard Business Review ran a series of four articles on “Leadership Lessons From the Military”. Over the next few weeks, From the Battlefield will spotlight each article in hopes of sharing with you how your clarity, adaptability, and management skills are just what corporate America needs in its leadership. This week, we cover “Extreme Negotiations” by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes.

Weiss, Donigian, and Hughes explore how the way in which soldiers handle high-risk situations can translate into a benefit in corporate negotiations. While the stakes may be quite different, the authors of this article see the corporate negotiations that CEOs and other senior executives perform every day as analogous to that which the US military engages in every day. Both types of negotiations involve rapidly changing information, the need for rapid progress, and stressful situations.

During their six-year study of these negotiations, Weiss, Donigian, and Hughes found that the five most highly effective negotiation strategies are those practiced by the military. These include Getting the Big Picture, Uncovering and Collaborating, Eliciting Genuine Buy-In, Building Trust First, and Focusing on Process.

Get the Big Picture:

Successful military negotiations begin with obtaining an understanding of the other side’s point of view and how that affects the overall goals of the negotiations. The authors cite the successful use of this tactic in dealing with a group of Afghan women and children who were huddled in a building from which the Americans were being attacked. Leveraging this technique led to the formation of an ongoing relationship with these women, which in turn led to important information that would not have been obtained otherwise.

Uncover and Collaborate:

It is important to learn the other side’s motivations and then suggest solutions with an invitation for improvement. When this strategy was used with a group of village elders who had the ability to find out who in their village was placing IEDs, it not only addressed the needs of the elders by allowing them to build prestige because they were viewed as handling the situation internally, but also led to a record numbers of weapons caches being turned in and additional potential combatants being entered into a database.

Elicit Genuine Buy-In:

The use of facts, as opposed to brute force, is often a better persuasion technique. The use of these facts more often than not elicits genuine buy-in from the opposition. This was the case in Afghanistan when a Captain recognized that some on his team were using force to communicate with Afghan National Army soldiers. Using his knowledge of The Koran, this leader was able to change the tone of the conversation, which resulted in a true partnership.

Build Trust First:

Address trust issues head-on and explore how they might be eased. This involves making incremental and reciprocal commitments instead of carte blanche concessions. This strategy was used to deal with a disgruntled former gas station owner who had lost his business with the building of new airfield. Over the course of several visits, the American Captain was able to repair the relationship with this man in such a way as to minimize the compensation the man desired.

Focus on Process:

By focusing on the negotiation process, you can change it to benefit the situation. This involves discussing the actual negotiation process with the opposition in addition to the issues. This technique came in handy for a First Lieutenant who was angrily approached by a local group of men who felt that their land had been sold off for profit to someone else. The First Lieutenant was able to de-escalate the potentially volatile scene by sitting down and calmly discussing the situation instead of reacting in kind. This disarmed the group and led to a mutual beneficial agreement being reached.

These five techniques have arisen from studying the way in which the nature of soldiers’ jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq has changed. Their daily lives overseas involve more than just a daily patrol or raid and often involve some form of negotiation. For example, West Point trains its leaders in these skills in a course called “Negotiation for Leaders”. It is from the techniques practiced by these soldiers that corporate America can learn to negotiate in extreme situations.

Click here to read the article. And don’t forget to check out next week's posting for a synopsis of Harvard Business Review’s take on how branch of service affects leadership style.

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