Like many Americans, I have been assiduously following the news coverage of the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations. While I could natter on and on, disbursing countless “riveting” opinions about the increasing polarization of US politics, I’ll opt instead to follow the safe path and talk about the art of compromise, of which there is currently a profound scarcity in the continuing debate, and its application in business partnerships.

Compromise. To many it’s a dirty word, with opinions often held to be sacrosanct rather than points along a panorama of contiguous perspectives. And yet, an inability to compromise can result in the demise of many a relationship, whether personal or professional.

As executives, we have spent years honing our individual specialties, learning from our experiences, both good and bad, until we are able to apply our knowledge with shrewdness and discernment. Unfortunately, with this accumulation of expertise, comes a certain calcification in our mental flexibility. We are experts and are well aware of this fact. When we enter negotiations with a business partner, this can result in what feels like two juggernauts jockeying for supremacy.

It can be difficult to remember that the person on the other end of the negotiations has a depth of knowledge in their area that, while different, still demands respect and attention.

Here are some tips to avoiding a turf war in the boardroom:

  • Frame your expertise. Each player on the field has a domain in which they are the master. Lucidly present your knowledge base to showcase your key strengths.
  • Stay within your sphere. The longer we have been in business, the more opinionated we become. It’s easy to offer up your viewpoint on another’s area of expertise, but it’s important to remember that when you are playing in their space, they should have the floor.
  • Constantly refine your ability to listen. That means not just putting on a good face, waiting for your turn to talk, but truly listening to and working to understand the other person’s perspective. A good orator can move masses, but a good listener can engender loyalty and respect.
  • Open your mind, if only a crack. The drawback to strong opinions is that they create a visceral reaction when a statement is incongruent to our thought system. Catch yourself when this happens and take some time to identify whether the information is actually invalid.
  • Pick your battles. There’s no question that negotiations can often feel like a battleground. Just remember that small skirmishes often need to be lost to gain ground. Stay your position on issues that are vital to the negotiations, rather than asserting yourself needlessly, when conceding on a small issue may win you the larger ones.

In the end, closing a negotiation should leave both parties pleased at the reciprocity shown, but with a mild distaste for the ground that had to be lost. While it may not be an ebullient feeling, the end result will still be satisfying.

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