In most of the negotiations in which I have been involved one of the main issues is mutual respect. Sometimes I think is it like the theme song from the TV sitcom “Cheers,” which says in part “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Although knowing people by name is certainly part of showing respect, real respect entails more than simply keeping all the names straight. To be respectful means many things including polite behavior, timeliness, keeping promises, and being prepared. Read further about the importance of “little things” and four ways to show respect.
People do not feel that a negotiator is being respectful when a person comes to the bargaining table unprepared or fails to keep promises and misses deadlines. You might think that meeting deadlines for the big issues or keeping the main performance promises would be satisfactory. In practice, however, the little things count just as much. Showing up on time, treating people professionally, and following through on the little promises are important because those actions are symbols of what you are all about as a negotiator. Failure to do these small things is a signal to the other side that you intend to be a harsh, competitive negotiator.
Showing respect is a key to negotiation. This is especially true in the highly technical negotiations in which we often find ourselves. In most negotiations people are waiting to be recognized. For example, sometimes people say that they want to be taken seriously or not taken for granted. This goes beyond a friendly greeting. People want to be known for their experience, knowledge, expertise, positive reputation, and/or legitimacy.
By legitimacy I mean recognizing that people have a right to be at the table. One common mistake negotiators can make is to treat their allies at the bargaining table as if they were not important. I often hear negotiators say something like this: “Don’t worry we will protect you” or “It will be taken care of.” This kind of statement can cause more problems than it solves. Everyone wants to feel that their presence is acknowledged, that they have a role to play, and that they are legitimate.
Even an opponent should be respected. It might be argued that acknowledging an opponent’s legitimacy gives them too much bargaining power. That argument only holds if you don’t want to use the negotiation to create the best possible solution.
It is important to show respect when you are trying to resolve conflicts creatively. Here are a few of the many ways to show respect.
1. Let people speak. Sometimes this is not possible, but usually it is beneficial to the whole decision-making process if we let people have their say.
2. Listen attentively. Good eye contact is important. Refrain from conducting other business or side conversations when others are presenting their views.
3. Call on others to contribute. This is especially valuable with allies and can be planned with them in advance by arranging opportunities for them to use their expertise or experience.
4. Use subcommittees. When the dispute is highly technical it is often beneficial to form subcommittees to deal with particular subjects. Care must be taken when giving tasks to subcommittees so that the committee knows what is expected and the boundaries of its assignment. Committee assignments not only demonstrate respect, but also help the negotiation progress toward a positive result.
Berton Lee Lamb