Too many interests!
Interest based negotiation sounds all slick and cool when you only have a couple interests to track.
But what about if you’re a normal person and you have, on average, about two dozen interests competing for your attention in any given moment?
How do you figure out which interests to pay attention to when you’re negotiating?
And how can you tell if you’re letting irrelevant interests get in the way of getting what you want out of a negotiation?
When approaching any new negotiation, the first thing you need to do is figure out your interests in the deal: why do you want what you want out of this negotiation? Does the deal help you pay bills, introduce you to a new client, allow you to work in an area you’ve been itching to try out?
Knowing what your interests are before staring the negotiation helps you figure out what’s important. If paying bills is important, money is going to be your main focus; if the opportunity to work with a particular client is what’s motivating you, you’re going to focus on the details of the working relationship.
Your interests in the negotiation are your Deal Interests: they are why you want what you want in this particular deal.
Funny thing is, though, when you negotiate you don’t turn off the rest of yourself. You might want a better page rate from this client than you got the last time, but you might also want to call the vet, listen to the new Zoe Keating album, and grab banh mi for lunch from the awesome food cart down the street.
These interests are just as real as your Deal Interests and they don’t voluntarily fade into the background just because you’re negotiating. Let’s call these interests your Life Interests, because, frankly, that’s what they are.
Because negotiation is a social endeavor, you also have another set of interests banging on the door for your attention: your Social Interests. Social interests are interests in how you want other people to interact with you.
For instance, I tend to tell jokes in awkward situations or talk too much when someone else is silent. I want people to be comfortable around me, and I react strongly to indications they aren’t comfortable. Your Social Interests can be informed by your personality, your culture, even the type of situation you’re in.
Just being able to name the different sorts of interests is a pretty big deal. Instead of being a general onslaught for slivers of your attention, you can now slowly put each demand in its proper pile: Deal, Life or Social.
As you’re negotiating, particularly if you’re getting frustrated, take breaks and ask yourself, “What do I want right now?” Then: listen.
If it’s a Life Interest that’s begging for your attention, you can determine if it makes more sense to put the negotiation on hold and address it (grabbing a bite to eat; calling your doctor to schedule that appointment) or set the interest aside and continue with the negotiation. If it’s interrupting your ability to focus on what you want out of the negotiation, it’s probably best to take a break and address it as best you can.
If it’s a Social Interest, you can ask yourself if fulfilling it is harmful or hurtful in the particular situation you’re in. If it’s hurtful, it might make sense to take some time and figure out how to fulfill it outside of the negotiation.
For instance, to help curb my talking-a-lot-when-things-get-quiet problem, on my desk I have a big sign I can tape to my monitor that says “Don’t Fill the Space.” When I’m on the phone with someone it reminds me to keep my trap shut if I’m just talking to fill up silence.
But the most important work you can do to help you figure out what’s going on in the moment is done long before the negotiation begins: it’s sitting down and identifying why you want what you want out of this particular deal.
Why is that homework important? Because it gives you something to go back to when you’re in the heat of battle.
You can compare what you really want in that moment to what you really wanted before the stuff hit the fan. If the interests don’t match up, you know that the thing in the heat of the battle is merely a distraction that’s robbing you of being able to get to what you really want.
And what’s easier to shake off: a distraction or something that feels like the Most Important Thing Ever?
So do your homework before you start negotiating and figure out what your interests are. It might feel like the world’s most boring activity, but it sure comes in handy when life gets in the way of your negotiation.