Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Getting People To Say “Yes”

Accountants are often involved in situations where they are attempting to obtain agreement. Examples include negotiating terms, reaching compromises and a host of other instances where you, “as the keeper of the numbers,” are seeking to persuade one or more people to adopt/accept your (or your client’s) viewpoint.

We begin with the assumption that the negotiation isn’t a scorched earth situation. In other words, you’re hoping to obtain the “yes” without use of undue pressure and/or destruction of the relationship.

While experts will disagree about how to classify the basic elements, there is a generally agreed upon series of negotiating best practices if you are attempting to get others to say “yes.” What follows is a quick hit on each.

#1 – respond with your brain, not your emotions.

Just like business development, you need to be deliberate in your responses. Words once said are like toothpaste squeezed from a tube – impossible to take back. Emotionalism breeds emotionalism and you don’t want the discussions to be at the mercy of unfocused passions. If that occurs, you have lost control of the situation. Always respond with thought. Just like business development, you want to understand as quickly as possible what it is the other side really wants, because your negotiating approach will be structured around that reality.

If you find yourself strongly emotionally triggered, it is always OK to request a couple minutes to stretch and walk around, or for an opportunity to talk with your client privately or to take a bathroom break. Collect your thoughts and return to the table.

#2 – eliminate Us and Them

In a real negotiation the other side shouldn’t be your opponent, and it isn’t a war. If you treat it that way, they’ll feel your mindset and respond in kind. Instead, you’ll achieve better results if you can see the situation from the other side’s perspective. Instead of advancing your agenda and seeking to persuade them to your viewpoint, first look for those things you can say “yes” to. Where you can, agree with them, find common ground and build a consensus. To emphasize agreement, highly skilled negotiators eliminate the word “but” and replace it with “and.” There’s a limit to this, of course. The take away here is that many studies have made it clear that emphasizing what you can agree upon will disarm the other side, greatly reduce the typical adversarial nature of many negotiations, and foster an environment that will more frequently result in a successful agreement.

#3 – meet objections head on

The key here is to understand what the other side really wants and cares about. Once you understand this, you can anticipate their objections to your negotiating positions. The question then becomes how to resolve them. The wrong answer is to try and duck objections. The more clever negotiators focus upon reframing each potential objection by phrasing it as a mutual concern for both sides and then offering ideas for addressing the objection.

#4 – make the negotiation a win-win

To the extent you can, it is desirable to include the other side’s ideas into each of your proposed solutions. This evidences good faith, flatters them, brings the two sides closer together and fosters collaboration. At the bottom line, give them some ownership in reaching a successful conclusion to the negotiation.

Additionally, there are typically any number of less important things you can agree to as part of the give and take leading to the eventual deal that is agreed upon. Since the other side doesn’t really know how you value each of these, you have the power to influence their thinking. If you lead them to believe one or more of these is important to you, but you then – in the spirit of compromise – soften or even forego each “important” concern, it can lead to them pulling back on their demands.

Don’t give these up too quickly. The idea is give a little and get a little as you inch along toward an agreement.

# 5 – make it easy for the other side to say “yes”

This is a powerful closing tactic, but can be overdone. I recommend you tread lightly. It has been said that in a successful negotiation you bring the other side to its senses, not its knees.

The tactic is used after both sides have had the opportunity to explore their differences and isolate where the real issues are. You are at that point in the negotiation where the resolution – if it is going to happen – is starting to become apparent. You begin by starting to, a) propose your solution and then, part way through, you, b) shift gears and describe – in neutral terms – the problem (and its real or potential downside) that led you both to enter the current negotiations and then, c) continue and complete the description of your solution. In effect, by doing this you are highlighting both the cost of not reaching agreement and emphasizing the value to both parties of reaching an agreement.


Just like the best practices business development methods discussed in this blog, certain behaviors are especially valuable in conducting successful negotiations. The five elements briefly described above are among the most important.

An interesting publication that gets much further into these tactics is a book by William Ury titled “Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People.” Check it out.

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