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Gleb Tsipursky


Why Your Negotiations As a Quality Professional Are Doomed

Here are some strategies on how to rescue them

Published: Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 13:03

Negotiators, even professional ones, make surprisingly many wrong decisions that doom negotiations that should have succeeded. Many of these mistakes relate to overestimating how well they can read the feelings and thoughts of other parties in the negotiation, as well as the extent to which the other party can read their feelings and thoughts.

Given the focus within quality on task excellence rather than relationship-building, such mistakes get multiplied many times over. That’s because the focus on tasks distracts from stakeholder engagement, the practice of building relationships with and influencing those individuals and groups who matter most for the outcome of any negotiation or initiative. Instead, you need to go against this intuition and rely on social intelligence, the skill set of understanding and being able to influence effectively other people’s emotions and their relations.

What kind of mistakes do negotiators, in quality and elsewhere, make? For instance, research shows that negotiators who sought to conceal their desires did a better job than they thought they did. In turn, those who tried to convey information to those they negotiated with about their preferences overestimated their abilities to communicate such knowledge. Other scholarship shows that negotiators with less power are more prone to such mistakes than those with more power.

Scholars call this erroneous mental pattern the illusion of transparency, referring to us overestimating the extent to which others understand us and how well we grasp others. This mental blind spot is one of many dangerous judgment errors—cognitive biases—that we make due to how our brains are wired. We make these mistakes not only in work, but also in other life areas, for example, in our shopping choices, as revealed by a series of studies done by a shopping comparison website.

Fortunately, recent research in these fields shows how you can use pragmatic strategies to address these dangerous judgment errors, whether in your professional life, your relationships, or other life areas.

You need to evaluate where cognitive biases are hurting you and others in your team and organization. Then, you can use structured decision-making methods to make “good enough” daily decisions quickly, more thorough ones for moderately important choices, and an in-depth one for truly major decisions.

Such techniques will also help you implement your decisions well and formulate truly effective long-term strategic plans. In addition, you can develop mental habits and skills to notice cognitive biases and prevent yourself from slipping into them.

I observed a clear instance of the illusion of transparency when an electric company, whose vice president of quality heard my presentation at an ASQ keynote on stakeholder engagement in quality, brought me in as a consultant to mediate in failing contract negotiations between the management and the union. Both sides believed the other party to be unwilling to negotiate in good faith, asking too much and giving too little. The union demanded substantial wage hikes, strong job protection, and better retirement benefits, and the management pushed back strongly on each request, demanding instead better quality and productivity.

Quickly, I noticed that the illusion of transparency gravely inhibited progress. My private conversations with representatives from both sides showed that all felt they communicated their positions effectively, in both the areas where they wanted to stand firm and where they felt willing to compromise. Yet these same conversations showed many areas of agreement and flexibility that neither side recognized.

Why didn’t both sides explicitly outline their positions thoroughly and clearly, so that the other side understood exactly where they stood? Because they were afraid that the other party would take advantage of them if they explicitly stated their true positions, including the minimum they’d be willing to accept.

So both sides tried to convey what was most important to them by arguing more strongly for certain points and less strongly for others. They believed that the other side would “get the hint.”

Unfortunately, neither side “got the hint” of the true priorities of the other side. In part, the challenge stemmed from a long trend of hostile management-labor relations. They haven’t adopted more innovative, modern, and cooperative techniques of achieving shared goals, leading to acrimonious, suspicious, and close-minded assumptions about each other.

What I asked each side to do was use the decision-making strategy of weighing their priorities. After deploying this strategy, the union negotiators assigned first priority to increased job protection, second to better retirement benefits, third to a large wage increase, fourth to avoiding raising productivity standards, and fifth to not improving quality standards. The management negotiators used the same strategy and assigned first priority to no wage increase, second to decreased retirement benefits, third to increased quality, fourth to increased productivity, and last to weaker job protection.

By clarifying these priorities, the parties were able to find room for negotiation. The final contract included much strengthened job protection, a moderate boost to retirement, and a small wage hike at just below inflation. It also included significant boost to quality and a moderate increase in productivity.

The management appreciated the outcome because it didn’t have to spend as much money on labor, and got better quality and productivity; the union membership liked the peace of mind that came with job protection, even if they didn’t get the wage hike they would have liked and would have to work somewhat harder and more precisely.

The key takeaway is that in any negotiation situation, you’re likely to be overestimating the extent to which you explained your position to the other party. You’re also probably too confident about how well you understand the other party’s perspective. The other party is most likely making the same mistakes regarding you.

An easy way to address these problems is to use the decision-making strategy of weighing your priorities and having the other party do the same. Then, trade off your lowest priorities against their highest ones and vice versa. You can come to a win-win agreement where both parties realize the biggest gains and experience the least losses.

It might not seem intuitive to you as a quality professional that this approach would work. Think of it as applying the practice of quality to the human mind. It’s much more complex and unpredictable than any machine or software program. Fortunately, recent research-based strategies adapted to the needs of quality professionals can show you how to make the unpredictable and irrational brain more predictable, and enable you to influence people toward your desired high-quality outcomes.

To learn more, attend my upcoming webinar, “How Quality Professionals Can Engage Stakeholders Effectively Through Social Intelligence,” sponsored by Intelex, Feb. 25, 2021, 2 p.m. Eastern (11 a.m. Pacific), and available as a recording after that date.


About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect quality leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (2019). His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, and more than 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.