Recently I ran out of storage space for all the stuff I’d accumulated. After years of procrastination, I knew I had to throw things out. Various charities were the beneficiaries of standard lamps, heaters, old books and other dross that I had stored away thinking it ‘may be useful one day’. As I went through the process of offloading, I felt a strange mixture of liberation and humiliation.
Liberation because I could ‘clear the decks’ and streamline my life. I would be free of clutter, have more space and be able to retrieve what remained without risking life and limb.
But then there was the humiliation of having my ‘valuable’ stuff rejected by charities and tip shops.
‘We’re stacked to the rafters with operational vacuum cleaners,’ sighed a weary young man in overalls, as I eagerly offered up my red vintage vacuum cleaner - still in mint condition.
Into landfill it went, along with my ego.
It was then that I realized: values are different and this insight is the basis of all successful trading for negotiators. I had believed my used vacuum cleaner would be snapped up by someone, but no - new ones are so cheap that second hand ones don’t even rate.
So often we think we know what others want and so often we are wrong. We rely on our own emotional judgments, our own perspectives on the world, rather than remaining open about the interests and needs of others.
Marie Kondo (*Netflix series) had got me started. Her technique requires people to pile all the stuff they have into separate piles before sorting. She holds each item from the various piles to feel whether or not the item brings ‘joy’. If not, out it goes.
Inspired by her approach, I began modestly by tipping my sock drawer onto the floor. I counted seven odd socks in the pile – nope - no joy there. A collection of sports socks so out of shape that their only possible use was as hand-puppets or golf club protectors. Again, no joy.
This step offers yet another significant insight into successful negotiations. The lesson from Kondo is to see the big picture before you make decisions on detail. If I had taken the socks out of the drawer one at a time, I wouldn’t have been as ruthless in my reduction, as I wouldn’t have realized the actual size of the problem.
In negotiating terms, an uncluttered sock drawer was my objective. The strategy was to recognize the size of the problem by putting them all in a pile. Once that was done, the individual decision making about ‘joy or no joy’ was so much easier.
Make sure you are always clear on what you are trying to achieve in your negotiations. One way to do that is to construct one memorable sentence for yourself that articulates your purpose and just hold it in your head.
Or as Steven Covey says in “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” begin with the end in mind.
About the author:
Keith is a Principal Consultant with Scotwork and has over 30 years experience as a business consultant, educator and trainer. He is a regular consultant to senior executives in professional practice and his principal interests in management are strategic planning, project management, client-relationship management and conflict resolution.