Leadership Barometer 13 Negotiate Well

August 27, 2019

I’m sure you realize that we all negotiate every day of our lives.  From the moment the Doctor slapped you on the bottom and you started to cry, you started to negotiate.

Some people envision that to negotiate means to sit across a small table at a car dealer.  Of course, that is, but the principles of negotiation are in play in pretty much everything you do.

This is especially true for leaders. The most important test of a leader is how well he or she does at influencing other people to do what needs to be done. In this brief article I will describe my fix on how you can tell the level of your negotiating skill. It is one of my favorite measures for the quality of leadership.

Negotiate Well

Most leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.

They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.

Simultaneously great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.

Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems. You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.

A key attitude for successful negotiations is to recognize that the best ones are where the parties seek out solutions that work for both of them.  Too many leaders seek ways to win in negotiations at the expense of the other party.  That implies that the other party loses.

The best negotiators keep working to find solutions that work to the advantage of both sides.  It is always possible to find ways to have both parties better off.

The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.

So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)

1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.
2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions are as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.
3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.
4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.
5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can as early as possible.
6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.
7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they do not share the sentiments of everyone.
8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.
9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.
10. Build Trust: Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.
11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.
12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.
13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.
14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.

These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization.

Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are much more effective.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Few Employee Surveys Work

January 30, 2011

We have all been exposed to an employee satisfaction survey at some point in our working lives. For some of us, the idea of filling out yet another QWL (Quality of Work Life) survey is not nearly as appealing as having a root canal. I have witnessed a significant hit to morale in many groups as a result of these attempts by management to gather information. Let’s examine why employee surveys cause problems and suggest some antidotes that can make a big difference.

1. Questionable anonymity – Nearly all QWL surveys are advertised by managers as being anonymous. This is to encourage people to share information without fear of repercussion. Unfortunately, nearly all surveys these days are conducted electronically. Most people are aware that anything online can be traced, if a smart IT technician is assigned to the case. People simply do not believe the promise of anonymity, which lowers the validity of the data. One way to give slightly more confidence in the integrity of the process is to include a statement such as this at the end of the form, “You do not have to type your name on this survey because it is anonymous. We will pay no attention to who you are if you do not sign the document. However, some people do wish to be contacted personally to give further input that might not be adequately covered on the survey. For that reason, there is a line to give your name if you wish. Someone will get back to you.”

Of course, no statement by management is going to convince the die-hard skeptics, but this explanation will assist most people. Another action that can help is to have a shop floor person (perhaps a known skeptic) participate in the data analysis phase, so he or she can verify personally that the managers do not know who said what.

If you claim anonymity but are quietly keeping track on the side out of curiosity, then there is no hope for you, and you should get out of the leadership occupation immediately.

2. Poorly worded questions – many managers believe that putting together a survey is a simple matter of writing a few questions about how people feel. Actually, survey design is a rather complex and exacting science. There are numerous ways to present questions that will yield meaningless (or at least ambiguous) information. There are also some methods that will generally produce usable data. The cure for this problem is to have someone who is trained on survey questions actually construct the instrument. If you have not had at least one course in experimental research design, then it is best to leave the matter to someone who has.

3. Long and tedious survey – It is not uncommon for QWL surveys to contain over 100 detailed questions. It is amazing that the designers of these surveys do not realize the obvious fatigue factor involved in completing one of these burdensome questionnaires. A much more accurate reading can be obtained by keeping the number of questions to 20 or less. This can be accomplished by paying attention and only asking important questions. Leaving out the fluff can cut the time to take a survey by more than half.

4. Management interprets the information as they please – It is frustrating to witness how managers wave away complaints or gripes on surveys as simple whining. Or they might shrug their shoulders and say, “there is absolutely nothing we can do about this issue,” so they consider the input as moot. The antidote here is to not ignore input regardless of how painful it is or how frivolous it seems. All input needs to be considered valid and not assumed away with some convenient rationalization.

5. “Nothing ever changes” – This is a common theme on the shop floor. “We take these stupid surveys, but nothing ever changes.” The antidote to this habitual problem is to actually take concrete actions based on the survey, then (and this is the part most managers forget) advertise that the changes are being made as a result of the QWL survey. Rather than saying, “We are going to add a second brief afternoon break,” say “As a result of your input in the recent survey, we are changing the break rules to allow a short second break in the afternoon. As always, we appreciate your candid feedback.” If managers do not make a conscious effort to communicate that changes are the result of input, people will usually not make the connection. Once a change is made and it becomes habit, people forget that there was a change, so the perception of “nothing ever changes” is common.

6. Managers try to react but do the wrong thing – It is far better to let the shop floor people be involved in decisions of how to improve conditions based on survey results. It may take a little more time, but the quality of process changes will be far better if those impacted the most have a say in their invention. They will make the changes work rather than wonder and push back at the clueless inventions of upper management. It is better to have workers inside the tent piddling out, than outside the tent piddling in.

7. Managers reacting to the vocal minority rather than the silent majority – This problem is common when surveys give the opportunity for open-ended comments. People on the fringe can give strong input, and managers might mistakenly interpret this to be the will of the majority. The simple antidote to this problem is to verify that a strong message really does come from several individuals rather than one highly disgruntled outlier.

8. Survey not tested for validity – For a survey to be useful, it needs to measure the phenomena it purports to measure. There are statistical techniques for determining if an instrument has validity. You may not have the time or money to invest in a professional survey designer to test the validity of an instrument, but at least you should ask the question of whether you are actually getting valid information.

9. No thought to reliability – The reliability of a survey is different from validity. For a survey to be reliable, it should produce a similar result if repeated and there have been no changes in processes since the last survey was taken. If survey results are all over the map when nothing in the environment in changing, it is a sign that the instrument is not reliable (repeatable).

10. Poorly communicated – When surveys are sent out, the cover letter explaining the purpose and process is a critical document. Many managers have an administration person whip out a paragraph of “management speak” like this. “It is vital that we know what people in our operation think in order to continually improve working conditions. Please take the time to fill out this anonymous survey that will give us the information. Thank you.” Here is a different note where the manager took the time to set up the survey for success.

“We are going to re-do our strategic plan, and it is important to include your input before making changes. The attached survey will begin the process. Before you take this survey, please reflect on the following points:
• The survey really is anonymous – we will have shop floor people help with the analysis to verify no names are attached to the data.
• We will summarize the data for you as soon as it is received.
• We will use the information as the basis for a series of meetings (you are invited to participate) on how this business can be improved.
• We will be making changes based on the results of this survey.
• We are all part of making this organization a success.”

With an introduction like that, employees will know this survey will likely have some impact and their viewpoints matter. It is critical to not waste credibility, time, and energy on a poorly designed and administered QWL survey. If the above 10 points are considered when designing an employee survey, it will produce results that can be the basis of solid organizational progress.