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Blog: Give them space to save face

Suze Cumming

Suze is passionate about our natural world and anything that propels her into the wilderness and allows her to stretch her limits is game on...

Suze is passionate about our natural world and anything that propels her into the wilderness and allows her to stretch her limits is game on...

Feb 28 3 minutes read

Give Them Space to Save Face

As professional negotiators who are paid to represent our clients’ interests, we need to be able to deal effectively with aggressive, hostile negotiators.  Giving them space to save face is a critical technique for this.


In last week’s blog on Bad BATNA, we established that weak BATNA causes the parties to feel vulnerable and the natural reaction to this is often defensiveness, anxiety and even hostility.  These reactions reduce or eliminate information sharing and joint problem solving and can derail a negotiation.


As skilled negotiators, we need to manage our thoughts and emotions so that we don’t engage in this ineffective behaviour.


When the other side is behaving in this manner, it’s our opportunity to shine.  By giving them space and the means to save face, they will feel less vulnerable and more open to collaborative deal making.   And we get paid to make deals.


Loss of face is associated with negative emotions such as humiliations, shame, loss of reputation, guilt etc.  For many people, loss of face is so significant that they would rather walk away from a negotiation than experience these emotions.


Our job is to defuse these emotions in the other party. 


Loss of face is almost always hidden and an effective solution also needs to be subtle and nuanced so that the other party is unaware of our deliberate actions.


Here are some examples of language that can create space for the other party to save face:


“I appreciate your stand on this and see some merit in it.  For us, there are some other factors at play.  May I share those with you?”


“Obviously, this can be interpreted in several ways….”


“perhaps there are some other factors here that I am not aware of”


“I understand that this is very important to your side.  Let’s see if there is a way to that my client could meet some of the needs of your client”


“I hear you – and appreciate your commitment to your client.  We all want the same thing here in terms of the eventual outcome.  I’d like to work with you to solve some of these impasses”


“are there other decision makers or influencers on your side making this difficult?”


Don’t use these as scripts.  Each situation is unique and usually very sensitive and a canned approach could do more damage than good.  To help the other side save face, you need to firmly manage your own emotions, see it as an opportunity, respect the other party, acknowledge them for something they have done that is good and offer a path forward that feels acceptable to them. 


Weak BATNA makes you vulnerable and the gut reaction to this is defensiveness.  Skilled negotiators resist this reaction but many REALTORS that we deal with day to day aren’t skilled.   So; what to do when the other side is being difficult, defensive and is shutting down the negotiation process? 


One highly effective technique is to give them space to save face.


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