Stuart Diamond has taught and advised on negotiation and cultural diversity to corporate and government leaders in more than 40 countries. For more than 90% of the semesters over the past 15 years his negotiation course has been the most popular at the Wharton Business School, based on the course auction. He is also the author of Getting More – How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life. In this interview he speaks to Firstpost on why India and Pakistan need to negotiate, how the soldiers negotiate with tribal leaders in Afghanistan and why the lack of people skills is proving costly for technology firms.
What is the most important point in any negotiation?
Almost any negotiation worth doing with anybody, whether its a billion dollar deal, diplomacy or my kid wants an ice cream cone, is a high stakes negotiation to that person. So almost every negotiation that is done in the world begins as an emotional negotiation. When stakes are high people get emotional and listen less.
That’s a very perceptive point you make….
Hence, unless you deal with that in the beginning you are not going to get the response you like. Also, I’d like to point out that we have begun to study the cost of conflict i.e. the cost of not collaborating. It turns out that India is in a fair amount of trouble when it comes to this. Only 20% of the people in India, trust each other, 80% don’t. If India had the same amount of trust as Sweden, its GDP would be $95 billion higher, which is twice as much as the defence budget, ten times the education budget, fourteen times the health budget and equal to the entire budget shortfall. In addition to that it would have 38 million more jobs, which is twice the population of Mumbai. Therefore the lack of trust in this country is a significant social and economic issue.
Why would that be? Isn’t trust also a function the amount of equality in the country? Like you gave the example of Sweden. Sweden has one of the highest equality levels in the world…
I would phrase it differently. I would say that trust occurs when someone thinks you want to do something for them, even if you are unequal. It begins with the notion of do I care about them? For example, when we had terrorist attacks in Mumbai around five years back, that’s when India and Pakistan should have started talking non stop. That’s part and parcel of the problem, which is even if Pakistan wanted to stop talking, India should have been after Pakistan to start talking, because you cannot solve a problem by not talking. In other words, if we mistrust each other, that’s the time to start talking. So this is counter-intuitive to many people because it says that the less I trust you the more I need to talk to you.
Can you elaborate on that?
For example, instead of India threatening to clean out terrorist cells in Pakistan, and instead of Pakistan putting people on the border, India should say to Pakistan, do you like terrorism? If you don’t like terrorism, we don’t. You want us to be able to do something about it? Let’s start small. What’s the worse problem we can solve in the easiest way? How do we start? Have a discussion about it. As opposed to do it my way. Or I demand this. There needs to be discussion. Even my 11 year old son, when he breaks something on the floor, I don’t blame the floor, I say Alexander how can you prevent this from happening again? Even a 11 year old kid understands that. How do we fix the process?
Not many people would buy that argument these days…
So much time is being spent arguing over yesterday instead of fixing the process for tomorrow. Yesterday adds no value. It is done and you can’t fix it and you can’t do anything about it. Tomorrow is what we can add value to. Too many people are backward facing when they should be forward facing.
One of the interesting examples that I came across was where you allowed your son to watch Scooby Doo for every minute that he played the piano. What was that all about?
It was a trade. First of all life is about a trade. Even a relationship. Quid pro quo. If you don’t need each others needs, soon you won’t have a relationship. And parents expect kids to do things for nothing, when they themselves would never do things for nothing. I wanted to teach my child the value of the trade. I paid money for the piano. I knew he would grow out of Scooby Doo, but he still plays the piano.
What is the lesson?
I wanted to know what do we trade. It teaches people to be responsible. That’s a really good thing to be thinking about with kids and others. What do they value? It doesn’t have to be monetary. It can be something intangible. It can be a letter of reference.
Letter of reference?
Let me tell you an interesting story. About three months ago one of Google’s senior negotiators went to do a deal in the Southern United States where they doubled the fibre optics capacity. The first tranche cost $6 million and it closed two years ago. The vendor wanted $6 million for the second tranche. Instead of asking for a discount this Google negotiator said what can Google do for you? And the vendor said you can write us a letter of reference, so we could build our business.
The Google negotiator said fine we will do that. And then he said, what can you do for Google? The vendor decided to offer a discount to Google. And the vendor charged Google $6000 for an installation of $6 million, a 99.9% discount. This happened because they made the human connection and it wasn’t just about the money.
Can you give us another example of where an intangible played an important part in a negotiation?
My models are not only used by Google but by Special Operations in Afghanistan. If they make a connection with the tribal leaders, which may be something as simple as praising the fact that he(i.e. the tribal leader) was a war hero against the Soviets, the tribal leader will tell them where the bombs are buried and where the Taliban are. People say negotiations are complicated. No they are that simple. I like to watch kids negotiate. Kids are very simple. I am happy. I am sad. I am hungry. We are not getting along. A lot of what passes for negotiation is too complicated. Its just a conversation about what’s going on. The thing is it is not rocket science. But unless you know how to do it, it’s completely invisible. These tools are obvious when you see them, but are invisible unless you know them.
The Afghanistan example was interesting..
Let me give you another example. In Afghanistan, you have got tribal leaders interested in co-operating with the Allies. So, I teach the soldiers to say, think your kid is going to be sick next year? It takes some months to get medicines in Afghanistan. Your kid might die. We can get the medicine the same day. Who cares about that in your village? Whether they are a hard bargainer or a soft bargainer, it will be very hard for them(i.e. the tribal leaders) to turn down the alliance. So the more you can create a vision for someone, the more they are likely to buy in.
Any other example?
Here is one. Google wanted to put cigarette advertising and liquor advertising on cell phones. The legal department of Google did not want to do this because there was danger of kids getting access to it. We realised that whenever people think this is risky if you are more incremental you can be more persuasive. So then what was proposed was a limited experiment. We try with cigarette advertising in Britain and liquor advertising in the US for a small portion of the market and see if it can protected from under age people. Google would use that as a test to see how people self regulate. Google would be a leader in the industry as opposed to someone trying to get a heads up. So you can completely turn something around by being more incremental and by re-framing it in a way to capture the imagination of people.
In complicated situations do outsiders tend to be the best negotiators?
In fact, somebody without an emotional history is often the right negotiator. There are times when you can do it yourself but by the time it gets to a situation where the husband and wife are fighting with each other, you need a marriage counsellor. Before that point you can often do it yourself. But it is also true that sometimes the best negotiator with my wife is my son. So the right negotiator is the person who can make the best connection with the other side. The right negotiator is not the smartest, the most skilled and the most experienced. It might be the weakest member of your team.
That’s interesting. Can you give us an example?
I told this to the senior management of Morgan Stanley last month and they said that this flies in the face of a 100 years of investment banking experience. They are going to think of changing this. For 100 years, the most senior person did the negotiation. And that’s not often the right negotiator.
Because he has got too many things to do anyway. You need someone who does not come with a baggage…
“Men better do better at negotiations than women” you point out. Why is that?
And that’s only because men practice more. Women are instinctively better negotiators than men. They listen more. But they don’t practice enough and so they are not trained enough. And some training is better than no training. As soon as they get trained at negotiations they do very very well. In fact, 30% of the people in my classes are women and they get more than half the highest marks.
One of the things that you write about is that the lack of people skills is proving costly to technology firms…
Absolutely. I gave a talk four years ago to 400 people from Microsoft from the business development and legal departments. I started the talk by saying that this morning I googled Microsoft. I typed “Europe hates Microsoft”. Why did I get 10 million hits in a tenth of a second? I said you are thinking it costs you money because people don’t like you. People investigate you because they don’t like you. The notion is that it is not just about the technology, if people don’t like you they will find a way not to buy your products and services.
Hmmm. And that’s impacting technology firms?
The FBI in Washington tells me that they use Oracle. They hate Larry Ellison and they are trying to find a way to use something else. And of course if you have got $12 billion like Larry Ellison has, you can be an SOB, but the problem is when you get to an America’s Cup race, only two people show up, including you. So there are costs to that even if you can get away with it for a short period of time.
Around 25 years ago I read a really an interesting quote from a treatise called The Myth of US Industrial Supremacy. though I am not sure of it.“There is no human organisation, institution or civilization, that cannot given enough time be ruined”. So I worry about it. However, powerful I am, if I make myself the issue over and over again, people are going to run away. The lack of people skills is the Achilles’ heal for the technology industry because it is not just about the technology. It is about how people feel about the technology.
The interview originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 1, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)