In The Smart Negotiator!® course I am constantly stressing that participants need to improve their “vision” if they truly want to be a high quality negotiator. Hence, the question: what does a skilled negotiator “see” that other people who are engaged in the same situation simply miss? One of the many aspects of vision, is the ability to distinguish between obstacles and challenges. Negotiators see challenges to be overcome or worked around to keep the process moving. Shoppers, on the other hand, see obstacles, which truncate the negotiation process and block the development of the deal.
This point is often illustrated during a labor/management exercise presented during The Smart Negotiator!® course. This case has a distinct degree of difficulty, due to the complexity of union contracts. Inevitably, the lesson of “vision” is on full display as the parties try to navigate through the exercise. As part of the negotiation context, a hypothetical company owns a tourism business in the nation’s capitol. For a number of reasons, its drivers are not required to possess a CDL (commercial driver’s license) to operate the buses. On its face, this issue appears to benefit the employees by providing people without a CDL who have the appropriate skill set to be gainfully employed. However, drivers working at any of their competitors that are required to possess a valid CDL, earn 30% more in wages. Moreover, as part of the situation, the company can get a $300,000 rebate in their insurance premiums if they get all (35) of their drivers a CDL. If the company paid for the training and the employees were “on the clock”, the total one-time spend would be $277,900. However, there’s a problem: 30% of the drivers are functional illiterates.
Let’s apply the “vision test” to determine how participants view this situation. A shopper, seeing obstacles, will claim with conviction, that if the company pays for the training, then the employees will leave to get a job with a competitor for 30% more pay. This shopper sees an obstacle that is framed as an intellectual dead-end forcing the negotiation to take a different direction. However, the negotiator responds by recognizing the challenge in the situation, claiming that if the company pays for the training of the CDL, the employee must agree to stay for 2-years or pay back the prorated amount of training cost if they leave.
What about the functional illiterates that are driving for this company? How is this fact going to be handled by the participants? As you might guess, the shopper is fatalistic in their assessment (vision). “These people will never be able to pass the classroom part of the CDL requirement because they can’t read”. Another manufactured dead-end, requiring a change of direction in the negotiation. The negotiator understands that these drivers are skillful enough to pass the road and range portion of the CDL blindfolded. The challenge that the negotiator sees is getting them to pass the written portion of the test. Many states allow someone to read the written portion of the driver’s test to people who can’t read. Remember this is a knowledge test not a reading test. This option could be one of the many ways to work around this challenge. There are other ways to mitigate this challenge–if you are looking!
In this case, as a result of the negotiator seeing challenges, instead of obstacles, they are able to negotiate an agreement that will allow the company to reduce its insurance premiums by $300,000 annually. If you are the owner, this savings is worth the effort. And if you are the negotiator, it is your professional responsibility.
Is that a shopper I hear? Or just Johnny Nash singing “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way”? Ah, but through the eyes of The Smart Negotiator, “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day”.