I recently read a short interview of Stuart Diamond, a professor of Negotiations at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who has also authored “Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve your Goals in the Real World” (Crown Business).
While he spoke about seeking solutions that responded to both parties’ needs, avoiding aggressive tactics, and making sure you truly understand the needs of the other party in the negotiation – I was most enthused to hear him dive a little deeper on what kind of understanding he felt was most important. In fact, he suggested that the best way to start a negotiation is to ‘address emotions first.’ That is particularly good advice in the context of negotiations in a family business, where emotions are often raw and intense. Diamond underscores something behavioral psychologists have studied for years, that is – the more important a given negotiation is to a person, the more irrational that person may act around the process of making this decision.
In our work with family businesses, we often find ourselves in situations where the most intelligent and rational business people suddenly appear to be irrational, petulant children when trying to negotiate an emotionally loaded issue. While a high emotional load on a negotiation can always be difficult, when the response of one of the key players feels very ‘out of character,’ this tends to add a level of confusion and fear in the room, that can often make the negotiation process even less effective.