Simon Horton on the “Strong Win-Win” approach to negotiation: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

hortonSimon Horton is one of the world’s leading negotiation skills trainers, having taught hostage negotiators, senior purchasing officers for some of the largest global manufacturing companies and solicitors at the most prestigious law firms in the world. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College, University of London, and has worked with many tier one banks, pharmaceutical and oil companies. In his spare time, he is a trapeze artist and used to perform as a stand-up comedian.

His book, Leader’s Guide to Negotiation: How to Use Soft Skills to Get Hard Results, was published by The Financial Times in 2016 in which he describes the Strong Win-Win method which solves the challenge of negotiating win-win outcomes in a world where not everyone is naturally a win-win player.

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In your opinion, what specifically must be done immediately to increase the percentage of actively and productively engaged employees?

Ha, ha! Give everyone a copy of my book or let them attend one of my workshops!

OK, since you mention it, let’s shift our attention to The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP.

First, when and why did you decided to write it?

Well, there was a practical business reason and a more philosophical, values-driven reason for writing it.

I wrote it during the last recession when my business flat-lined. Most of my clients were banks and when they went through the trouble they did, they stopped buying my workshops. (Interestingly, a few saw that improved negotiation skills were what they needed to get them through the tough times but they were the minority.) So I decided to use the time I had on my hands to recession-proof my business by writing the book.

But there was another reason too. The approach to negotiation I outline in the book is called Strong Win-Win – it shows win-win is the best approach but it also shows how to strengthen your position so that people won’t take advantage of any ‘niceness’. At the risk of gross over-simplification, Strong Win-Win strengthens nice people and shows nasty people that being nice is good even for selfish reasons. Why was this important to me? Well, if more people took this approach, the world would be a much better place. People would be wealthier and happier and there would be less conflict of any kind.

Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Actually there was and it was good news. I had always operated my own negotiations from a win-win approach and it seemed to work for me and so that is what I taught. But for a long time, I had a nagging doubt that maybe I was being naïve and perhaps the ruthless, deceitful, lying and manipulative approach might actually be better.

But in writing the book I did a huge amount of research and overwhelmingly the studies showed that the value of trust totally outweighed any short-term gains from these less ethical tactics and win-win really was the most successful approach.

Whether it was studies in business or diplomacy or peace negotiations, whether it was simulated negotiations in the laboratory, whether it was experiments from the fields of economics or decision theory, or analyses from mathematics, game theory or even evolutionary biology, they all pointed to the fact that win-win is the best approach even for selfish reasons.

And this gave me a lot of motivation to write the book because many people feel there is a conflict between ethical behaviour and business success when actually one can support the other.

And this gave me a lot of motivation to write the book because many people feel there is a conflict between ethical behaviour and business success when actually one can support the other.

Although the book’s title suggests that this is a guide for a “leader,” I think that almost all of the material you provide can be of incalculable value to almost anyone who needs to “use soft skills to get hard results.” Do you agree? Please explain.

Yes, I do, the skills and techniques can definitely be used by anyone to get great results. But my definition of leader is not confined to CEO’s or MD’s. I believe anyone can be a leader. You can be a leader in the post-room as much as you can in the board-room.

Leadership is, as I said before, simply about having ideas about how things can be better then making them happen. And you can do that from anywhere.

Although the book’s title suggests that this is a guide for a “leader,” I think that almost all of the material you provide can be of incalculable value to almost anyone who needs to “use soft skills to get hard results.” Do you agree? Please explain.

Yes, I do, the skills and techniques can definitely be used by anyone to get great results. But my definition of leader is not confined to CEO’s or MD’s. I believe anyone can be a leader. You can be a leader in the post-room as much as you can in the board-room.

Leadership is, as I said before, simply about having ideas about how things can be better then making them happen. And you can do that from anywhere.

And I do think that the particular approach I take to negotiation is resonant with leadership – it is about having a vision, it is about creativity and innovation, it is about ambition and inspiration. These are definitely themes I encourage and even give step-by-step ‘how to’ advice on.

How does the “Strong Win-Win” approach differ significantly from all others?

The classic negotiator’s conundrum is that they want to be fair and nice, because they believe this is ethical but they worry that if they are, then the other party will take advantage of them and they will end up with a bad deal.

So the Strong Win-Win method that I outline gives an answer to this dilemma. It says that there is value in win-win so you should try to achieve that, even for selfish reasons. But it also tells you how to protect yourself if the other party is not a win-win player and does try to take advantage of you. Perhaps more importantly, it tells you too what methods you can use to make the other person more likely to be a win-win player, more likely to be trustworthy. Prevention is better than cure.

What are the most important Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when using this approach?

The Strong Win-Win method is based on 4 simple principles and 6 steps, which I will mention briefly here but obviously in the book I go into much greater detail about how exactly to do them.

The 4 principles:

o Focus on the bigger picture, that’s the most important point.
o Don’t view it as a battle to be won, view it as a problem to be solved together.
o Don’t force results through just because you have the power. (If you do, they will find ways of making balancing the agreements.)
o Be strong – being nice doesn’t mean being a pushover

The 6 steps:

o Prepare. 70% of the negotiation is in the preparation so make sure you do it.

o Have a strong Plan B. If you are dependent on a particular deal, they will have you over a barrel.

o Build rapport and project strength and credibility. It is important to get both sides covered.

o Move them to win-win. This is actually easier than you imagine and the book devotes several chapters specifically to how you can do this.

o Solve the problem. Once you are working together, the negotiation is now just a collaborative problem-solving exercise.

o Trust but verify. There is value in trust but you can’t always, so make sure you have all the right procedures in place to be sure.

As I said, there is so many tips and how-to advice in the book to flesh these out.

Which of the Strong Win-Win principles seems to be the most difficult to master? Why?

I guess the answer to that question depends on the person, some will find a particular principle hard whilst others do it naturally. But perhaps the one I see people struggling with most commonly is one of the 6 steps: namely, building rapport and projecting strength.

The reason for this is that it almost goes to the depth of their personality. Typically, people are naturally good at one but not the other. Some people are naturally very nice and lovely to work with but they aren’t especially strong. Others are naturally quite tough but they find it difficult to win over people with their charm. Few people are lucky enough to be born with a personality that is good at both.

So to get good at the other one (which I encourage because that it is where you will get most benefit from), it does require changing your nature to a degree. This isn’t impossible at all but it isn’t always easy.

Is there a key to success when engaged in multi-party negotiations? Please explain.

This is a good question because it is my view that negotiations are nearly always multi-party. Even if it is only two people in the room, there are nearly always other people that can impact the outcome – whether it is their husband or wife or their boss or the F.D. or their client or the competitor or the regulator … the list is infinite.

So if you want to understand the totality of the negotiation, you need to know who these people are and what it is they want to achieve.

Now this can be a very big task so drawing it on a sheet of paper can be a very good way of understanding it – visuals can grasp the complexity much better than a verbal description. From there, identify the key people who can make the deal or break it then identify the drivers of each of these. If you understand their drivers, you will be able to frame your message accordingly to get them on board.

What is most important to keep in mind when engaged in negotiations with those who speak different languages and have different cultural values?

Culture is very important in negotiation, different cultures have different negotiation styles and the more you understand the other’s style the more successful you will be. This doesn’t only mean differences across nationalities, it can also mean across different sub-groups within the same nationality or across industries or firms within the same industry or even across departments or teams.

So the first thing to do is to understand their cultural values and behaviours as well as you can. Secondly, it is good to acknowledge these differences openly, and show that you respect theirs whilst helping them understand yours. Similarly with the language, acknowledge the difficulty and help them with their communication. This will build a lot of trust.

In my review of the book for various Amazon websites, I recall an incident during which I asked an aide to the English ambassador how he defined diplomacy. He replied, “Let the other chap have it your way.” Your own thoughts about that reply?

This is a great approach. If you tell someone to do something, there is a good chance they will resist it. If you suggest it lightly or ask them, they may or may not agree. But if you let them come up with it as their idea, they will fight for it! This is exactly where you want to get to.

So seed your idea but let them verbalise it. Or take the conversation down a particular path but let them make the (obvious) conclusion. Use phrases such as ‘As you mentioned earlier on…’ (even though they may not have mentioned it!), or ‘Building on your idea…’ or ‘Yes, great idea, and also…’ will all help them come up with your idea or at least feel they contributed equally to it.

What to keep in mind when formulating a Plan B?

The Plan B is very important – without one, they have got you over a barrel. Conversely, the better your Plan B, the higher your walk away point. So, the better your Plan B, the better result you are likely to get (either from your Plan A or your Plan B).
Perhaps, then, the key conclusion to draw is that the focus should be on your bigger picture goal and then it doesn’t actually matter whether that is through Plan A or B.

Should there also be a Plan C? Please explain.

Yes, definitely. And Plans D to Z as well! The reason being we cannot predict the future and maybe your Plan B doesn’t work out the way you hoped. So the more options you have, the better. Nick Freeman is a British lawyer who has become famous for a very successful track record in helping celebrities avoid paying penalties for parking and traffic offences. He does this by finding a loophole that will negate the prosecution’s case. He says finding this loophole is like finding a needle in a haystack but he keeps looking until he finds it. Importantly, he says once he has found it, he keeps looking for a second, a third and a fourth. It is only when he is armed with four or more loopholes that he feels confident he will successfully defend his client. I’m not a fan of his ethics but I am a fan of the thoroughness of his approach.

Please explain the title of Chapter 10, “Rapport vs Credibility.”

This refers to the point I made earlier that both are important and we need to be able to score highly on both. Some people will want to like you, they will only do business with you if they like you. Others don’t care if they like you, it is about how strong you are (if they push, will you cave in?) and whether you can deliver.

We need to be able to project that we can do both. Now, they are not mutually exclusive attributes but typically we are good at one and not the other. So we need to be able to recognise which to focus on at any given point. Maybe you have spent to much time chatting, so let’s get down to business; maybe you have been pretty aggressive negotiating that last point, so let’s lighten up and get a coffee.

What does channeling their self-interest involve? What does doing so accomplish?

Horton: If you are pushing against someone’s self-interest, you are going to find a lot of resistance. On the other hand, if you can align your goals with theirs, life will be a lot easier. So find out their drivers and motivations and find the overlap with what you want and you will be more successful in persuasion.

For example, when we ask our boss for a pay raise, we typically frame the request in terms of what the work we have done and that doesn’t usually work. Instead, if we put it in terms of work we are going to do and how that will help them achieve their goals (hit their target, get their promotion, impress their boss and so on), they are much more likely to agree.

In your opinion, what is the most important reality to keep in mind when solving a problem? Please explain.

I can answer this question around realities in two ways. The first is that we need to find out the ‘real’ reality behind the other person’s words. In negotiations, people are frequently economical with the truth and this can materially impact your outcome. For example, when Bill Gates licensed the operating system that became MS-DOS from Seattle Computer Products, he said there was only one client. He neglected to say that client was IBM and they were going to ship the software on every pc they were going to produce. Finding out that reality would have made a very large difference to how Seattle Computer Products negotiated the contract

But there is another way of answering this question too. In a negotiation, there is usually a pre-negotiation where each side will present their ‘reality’ and whoever wins this pre-negotiation will win the larger one too. Let’s say you’re a small manufacturing firm with a new consumer product and you are talking to Walmart about distributing it through their shops. They will say ‘Of course, we are Walmart and we have this fantastic market reach and that is what’s most important here’. If you buy into this reality, they will probably impose very stringent conditions on the deal simply because they can because you need their market reach. However, you don’t have to buy into that reality. You can lead with your own reality: ‘Well, the product we have is unique, no one else is producing such a thing, and we both know it’s going to sell like hotcakes. That is what is important here.’ Their ‘reality’ is that you need their market reach, your ‘reality’ is that they need your unique product.
It is important to stay strong in your reality.

You explain how to deal with “dirty tricks” in Chapter 19. Which seem to be the most troublesome? How to deal with them?

Well, they can all be troublesome, I guess, the difficulty is knowing how to respond. The problem with many of them is that people don’t usually flag up ‘I’m doing a dirty trick here’ so we might not even be aware of it. So, do your due diligence and put verification procedures into place, this way you are more likely to find out anything they try on.

And if we do notice something going on, there is still the issue of whether it was deliberate or not – maybe that extra zero was a sneaky trick or maybe it was just a typo. So there is no silver bullet that always works in every situation. Instead, you need as wide a range as possible of different responses available to you. You might diplomatically call them on it, you might walk out, you might ignore it – there are many other possible responses. And then you need to be able to choose which option to take and then apply it skillfully.

So it isn’t easy. Much better is prevention. This is where the ‘trust but verify’ philosophy applies. Having the verification procedures in place means they are much less likely to try anything on.

Furthermore, if you do your preparation, if you know your stuff, if you are projecting strength and credibility on the one hand and building relationship on the other, you really are reducing the chances of anything sneaky taking place. As I said before, prevention is always better than cure.

How to determine whether or not those with whom you are negotiating are worthy of trust?

This is a big question because trust is so important and yet you can never know for certain whether you can trust or not. But the more you get the basics right, the more likely you can trust. So do your preparation, know your figures, know their figures, build relationship and project strength – all of this will increase your confidence that you can trust.

To gauge whether you can trust or not, check their track record, ask around and check their reputation. Again, it is all about doing your due diligence. Ask questions from multiple angles, test it if you feel you need to and tune into the non-verbals – is there any “tell’” that gives away something.

And build the trust over time; there is a real premium for trusting but we shouldn’t do it naively.

How to know when to disengage from negotiations?

This is a really good question. You should always be willing to walk away from any deal, this lightness will help you negotiate a much more successful outcome. If you are dependent on a particular deal, the other party will sense this and they will have you over a barrel.

An important factor is trust. If you feel you cannot trust them, that is a good indicator to walk away.

But perhaps the single biggest factor is having a strong Plan B. So, at it’s simplest, if they are offering one cent worse than your Plan B, walk away; one cent better, stay in the deal. Obviously, many situations might require more complex modeling but it is the same principle at stake.

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To check out Part 1, please click here.

Simon invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

His Amazon UK link

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