Separating people from issues – is this desirable?

One of the standard maxims for good negotiations is to avoid getting personal. As always – looking for a simple answer to a complex questions is likely to cause more harm than good.

Separating the people issues from the negotiation issues is probably a good way to ensure that negotiations remain constructive even when the going is hard. “Getting to Yes” advocates this as part of its method of principled negotiations. My colleagues and I like to teach an approach best summarised as “tough on the issues, warm on the people”.

However – good negotiators do not ignore the people issues – they pay attention to them but don’t let them get in the way. As described in an earlier blog (December 2015 – Negotiating with emotions), good negotiators take into account the emotional elements of a negotiation both their own and that of their counterparts. They will attempt to prevent egos getting in the way and will look for approaches that their counterparties will be particularly open to.

It is good to separate out issues and understand if these are issues related to the underlying negotiation factors (price, quantity, quality, timing, etc.) or if these are more to do with the persons and personalities involved in the negotiation.

The underlying terms and conditions can be analysed, valued and usually it is possible to find trade offs that provide all parties with acceptable outcomes.

Although personal and emotional issues can and should be subject to analysis, it is often important to understand that the process of the negotiation can have a direct impact on these “people” issues. It is also important to understand that one cannot change the personality or emotional make up of one’s counterpart. Recognising preferred styles and understanding how best to deal with these is important.

So by all means – separate the people (issues) from the underlying (negotiation) issues but don’t try to negotiate one without addressing the other, it wont make life easier or get to a better result.




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