Common Denominators Under The Surface Of Negotiation

As someone who travels a lot, I’m often asked, “Bob, you speak and train and consult in all these different situations and cultures...how can that work?”

It’s a good question, and maybe best answered by a metaphor. 

Imagine you’re a physician specializing in broken bones. Early in the morning, a patient arrives, a Lakota Sioux with a broken arm. The patient asks anxiously, “Have you treated Native Americans before?”

At ten o’clock, a beautiful woman of Italian descent shows up with a fractured ankle. She asks, “Have you treated Italians before?” concerned that if not, you won’t understand her situation.

Immediately after lunch, you hear a commotion in the outer office—an Asian gentleman has been brought in, clearly in a lot of pain. He wants to know, “Have you treated Asians before?” After being assured that you have, he asks, “But have you treated Koreans?”

Toward the end of the day... well, you get the idea.

The point is obvious. The reason the physician can help all these different people from all these different backgrounds and cultures is that he’s a specialist in broken bones. He understands the problem, has seen it before, and knows how to treat it. He knows that while there may be all sorts of superficial differences, when you get beyond those and look beneath the surface, you find the similarities, common denominators that apply in every situation and for every person. 

The same is true for negotiation. When conflict of any kind arises...be it differences of opinion, communication problems, price issues...regardless of the situation or the parties, there are common denominators under the surface. In every industry and every culture, for example, there are people who have a need to control, people who have a need to be liked, and people who are afraid.

There are formulas that improve any negotiation situation. There are planning processes that dramatically improve the odds for success, regardless of industry or culture.

So the next time you find yourself in a negotiating situation, ask, "What’s going on under the surface here?" Look past the way of speaking and the social customs and ask yourself, "What’s really driving this person?" The answer may well be the key to resolving a situation the quickest, most efficient, and most profitable way possible