I recently came across a short but interesting blog by Carl Van Claims Expert that made a simple but absolutely vital observation. One of the most distinguishing features of outstanding negotiators is their use processes.
The essence of expertise is to know how to react to or initiate actions depending on particular circumstances. This requires the ability to recognise diverse and sometimes subtly different patterns and lots of practice when responding. You need processes to efficiently recognise and analyse what you see and processes to decide what actions to take and how to interpret their results.
Great negotiators have lots of processes. These include processes for setting vetoes and targets, for deciding their concession strategies and tactics, for developing creative approaches to negotiations and for managing their communications with team members and negotiation counterparts. Learning about negotiations, either through reading books, attending workshops or watching others is all about acquiring processes and learning how and when to apply them.
The more I think about this the more I believe that this process point applies to excellence in any skill or activity. Having a process helps to generate stability. When you have a stable process you can start to vary it in a controlled manner to vary the outcome. Having a stable base allows you to understand how specific, sometimes small changes in input can affect outcome.
Beginners tend to start developing their skills by learning one process and practicing its implementation. As you become better at something you become better (i.e. faster, more effective, more consistent) at executing the process and you can start to acquire additional processes. Sometimes these may just be variations of the core process, sometimes these may be new and genuine alternative processes.
Think about the development that takes place when learning to play an instrument or a sport such as tennis, golf or a martial art. As practitioners become more proficient with basic techniques (i.e. more practice) they make fewer mistakes. The process has become more consistent. The practitioner can now draw on a wider range of techniques (increasing number of processes). In some cases they can even develop new techniques (new processes).
I am reminded about the story of how John Wooden, one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time (some people even recon he was the greatest sports coach ever), would start a new training season by getting all members of his professional team to go over on how to tie their shoelaces properly. He maintained that you constantly needed to get the basic (processes) right before you could move onto the more complicated stuff.
So next time you are looking to improve your performance as a negotiator ask yourself – what processes are you applying? How well do you apply them? What alternatives might you want to investigate to complement and broaden your skill set? These questions and their answers may well hold the keys to your improved performance as a negotiator and professional.
Wishing everyone a wonderful break, seasons greetings and a great 2016