#Winning Isn’t Everything

Apr 12, 2011 2 Comments by

Contrary to what Charlie Sheen will tell you, #Winning isn’t everything.  charlie sheen winning mug shot

History has given us plenty of examples where unresolved disputes between co-dependent adversaries have killed the proverbial Golden Goose.

With so much at risk, the skills used to facilitate challenging negotiations can be some of the more valuable tools that a Change Agent brings to their role.

In the past couple of posts, I shared a few “worst practices” that I noticed by watching the recent US Congressional budget deadlock and a few “better practices” I have seen in my work with various clients.

My first post in this series covered things we’ve seen Congress  demonstrate that I think would be better for us to avoid.  That list included “kicking the can down the road”, “name-calling” and other behaviors that frustrate both sides and do little to advance the resolution of conflict.

Read my last post to get more details on these first five  positive negotiation techniques that I listed as:

  1. Use a Facilitator
  2. Talk About the Best Case
  3. Paint the Worst Case
  4. Be a Fly on the Wall
  5. Shut Up and Write it Down

In today’s post, I have five more tips that you may want to try when you find yourself caught in the middle between warring factions:

6. What DO You Like? Instead of focusing primarily on the items of disagreement, consider having team members list some of the characteristics of the other side’s positions that they most appreciate.  The good will generated by acknowledging where they are in alignment with the other side’s priorities can often loosen up other sticking points.

For example; Perhaps both sides agree that it’s a good idea to enact a 4-day work week over the summer to reduce energy consumption, but they differ on how to carry out the plan.  Employees like the idea of 3-day weekends. Management likes the idea of saving costs, as long as the change can be done without significantly reducing productivity or customer service.

Now leverage the general agreement that both sides have to the principle of the 4-day work week by asking “How can our side help make this happen?”

The 4-day constraint means that employees will have to either accept longer work days or fewer paid hours. Management will have to come up with a way to explain the reduced service schedule to customers.Notice how the employees are now balancing their own investment with their own perceived benefit? The same is true for management. This sets up a pair of values-based decision points as opposed to a 2-way values-based “us versus them” point of conflict.7. I See Your Point: Have a few members on each side of the argument try to verbalize the OTHER side’s position. Sometimes just having people talk through another person’s logic can help us better empathize with it.  This verbal walk-through can also help to clear up obvious misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Warning: This technique can be very uncomfortable for some folks to do – especially if things have deteriorated into bitterness. So use it only if the groups are open to the idea.

8. Shake it Up: I once took part in a negotiation that dragged on well into the night involving a team that was charged with doing a process effectiveness audit. We were strictly bound to a rule of consensus decision-making – and our final report was due at 8:00am the next day. In the course of our research, the team had discovered a key process area where it was hard to deny that significant improvements were needed.  The problem: the manager of that department was on our team, along with several members of her staff. It would be very difficult for them to admit publicly that their business model was in trouble.

We went back and forth for hours until we hit a wall.  We finally broke the deadlock by splitting up into several sub-groups and moving the entire conversation to another room. Some of us even moved our discussion outdoors!  The total change of scenery was enough to shock people into a different mind-set and we hammered out a compromise.  It’s amazing how much people’s attitudes can change with simple exposure to fresh air.

9. Break It Up: Following up on the example above, you may be able to break a log jam by having your negotiating team split into 2 or more sub-groups to tackle components of the deadlocked issues.  Have people identify the areas of contention that each person is most qualified to represent or cares most passionately about and then create working groups based on these preferences.

It often helps the larger group develop a broader level of trust when they see the sub-teams adequately represent their component parts of the overall need and bring potential solutions back to the larger group for final resolution.

10. Go For the Close: Finally, when the dialogue reaches a stalemate, shift topics and seek to close out agreement on something else. Even if it is a very minor part of the full negotiation, sometimes the accomplishment of a little closure can start to build positive momentum in the larger areas. Everyone likes to win, so look for ways to make sure that each side gets something meaningful in each round of small closures.

Summary: The recent debacle on Capital Hill can teach change agents and change leaders a lot about what NOT to do when facing difficult negotiations.  There are also a few good techniques that teams can use to break an impasse and complete difficult negotiations – even when they are under heavy pressure from deadlines or the constraints of budgets, compliance or customer needs.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. What other effective negotiating techniques have you seen employed to break a deadlock?
  2. Describe an example where you have seen the perception of positive momentum gained from small compromises used to shake loose people who were deeply entrenched in their positions on major issues.

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Change Agent Skills, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

2 Responses to “#Winning Isn’t Everything”

  1. Steve says:

    Great feedback Bruce,
    Thanks for sharing your process. Sounds like a good way to help the folks on the other side of the argument feel as if they are being heard.
    OBTW: I like your blog! Great PM advice. Mind if I put a link to your blog on my sidebar?

  2. Bruce - PMToolsThatWork.com says:

    “I See Your Point”

    A very good technique. I use a variation on it when I’m trying to overcome objections. I take the objector’s side and try to describe back to him/her, with equal passion, their position.

    Often I get jaw dropping reactions from the objectors. They would then come around, be a bit more flexible, when they realized I really did understand their position.

    Sometimes, people just want to be understood in their position and until they believe they are being understood, they don’t budge. They also often have much better confidence in someone who they believe understands their position.


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