David Dingwall is familiar to many government executives for his role in the Chrétien government where he held several cabinet posts, from public works to health. He later became a government executive himself, presiding over the Royal Canadian Mint, improving operations to the point the organization secured its first surplus in a number of years. But he ran into trouble–and became a target of ridicule–when he came under scrutiny for expense claims and declared “I am entitled to my entitlements.”
That didn’t do the Liberals or government executives any favours. But he’s back in the public eye, a lawyer and visiting professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, with a book Negotiating So Everybody Wins, that might do government executives who read it the favour of improving on that important front.
The book emerges from interviews with a series of well-known leaders–long-time former deputy minister Peter Harder, former Canadian Auto Workers Union President Buzz Hargrove, former TD Bank president Ed Clark, NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr, former Ontario Premier and Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, MP and former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt. The interviews can also be accessed through video links.
For example, Harder–now the government’s representative in the Senate where he will need every negotiating skill he has to shepherd the Trudeau agenda through the upper body–advises: “There are some lessons that are generic in negotiations. One is always be respectful. Don’t vilify the other side. Two, always leave a way out for compromise so that when the compromise happens there hasn’t been winners and losers, in a classic sense. The third is, make timing your friend. You have to be deliberate about what you put on the table [and] when, in terms of the timing of what you are doing. Is what you are doing going to give leverage to what you want to achieve?”
But the book is also very much Dingwall, offering his own experiences and learning over the years, in a practical, non-nonsense vein. He shares an early lesson from William “Bull” Marsh, a legendary figure with the United Mine Workers. Dingwall was a young, eager pup, a 28-year-old first time MP for Cape Breton who found himself in 1981 representing the Liberal government in negotiations over funding. Dingwall asked a lot of questions and demonstrated his knowledge of the facts whenever possible in their first encounter, convinced it was helping to make a good impression.
Negotiating So Everyone Wins
By David Dingwall
Lorimer, 336 pages, $29.95
But it wasn’t. At the end, Marsh approached him and asked to have a word. He leaned close, looked the young MP in the eye, and said in a low, slow voice, “When you speak, I fucking listen. So next time when I talk, you better fucking listen.” After that lesson on respect for the other side–delivered without the finesse of Peter Harder–Marsh walked away, leaving Dingwall in shock and with a memory for life. “I am indebted to Bull Marsh for reining in an emerging ego that had been a barrier to our proceedings and relationships,” he declares.
Ego-creep is the first of five demons he cites that can bedevil your negotiations. “Watch for the creep–it usually comes from feeling intimidated or insecure,” he writes. Don’t overcompensate, which will lead you to speak louder and more often than required (and not listen to the other side, as Marsh stressed). At the same time, avoid feeling superior, even if the other side seems to be inexperienced or disorganized.
Squash any desire to prove something. Your focus, he says, should not be on being the best known negotiator in the history of humankind but on achieving the best agreement in this particular situation. “Put the deal first–you serve it, it doesn’t serve you,” he says. Confidence in your preparation and skill set may be appropriate and well-earned. But that must be kept from turning into ego. Step back. Keep yourself focused on deliberate and strategic actions.
Bias can also derail negotiations. He points to confirmation bias, where you might seek, interpret, or prioritize information that confirms your beliefs. Anchoring bias can also be a pitfall, reaching early conclusions based on the first wave of information and process. The first number thrown out by the other side can lower your sights unreasonably. Be patient, recognizing that relying on first impressions can get you in trouble.
Overconfidence can also lead to bias–believing too much in your clout and skill. “If at the end of each day you reach inaccurate conclusions about the power you hold and the effectiveness of your approach, you will lose touch with the reality of the negotiation in a hurry. The best antidote to this bias is to appoint a person of trusted experience and perspective to your team to provide daily feedback about your performance. And then you really need to accept their comments and advice,” he says. Check your sense of the specifics of the meeting against that person’s viewpoint, avoiding the tendency of overconfident negotiators to not check in enough with others and trivialize contrary conclusions.
Lawyers learn to use precedents to substantiate their point of view. Judges adopt multiple perspectives to ensure they thoroughly understand the information before them. Academics are expected to understand and assess the contrary point of view when making an argument. Negotiators need similar discipline, testing their positions using precedent and contrary arguments.
Neediness can also get you in trouble. Dingwall tells of the car salesman who once suggested he take a new silver Taurus station wagon home to “try it out.” It proved an ingenious negotiating technique because by the time his wife and three children had seen what they considered their new car he wasn’t considering any alternatives and the salesman knew it, not having to lower the price to make the sale.
Needing to get a deal done quickly can be a killer. It will lead to early, foolish concessions. “Of the signals negotiators send that indicate they are needy, the one I have seen most often is non-stop talking,” he adds. “If you find yourself talking at length, recognize it and stop.” To combat neediness, you must swap need for want, distinguishing between what you instinctively think or emotionally feel you need and what you actually need.
Often we believe that reality is exactly what we believe, the facts plain for everyone to see, and anybody rational will agree with us. Such “naïve realism,” as he calls it, is fourth demon to be alert to. It can serve as a trap, since often others will have different facts and a different version of reality.
“Accept complexity–there is no such thing as a single, obvious reality. Respect the flexibility of facts–they mean different things from different perspectives. Grant the rationality of others–you’re not the only one who can think and reason,” he notes. Again, he stresses the importance of testing and assessing, finding the gaps in your position and knowing how to address them.
The fifth demon is assumptions. Entering any negotiation process with an assumption of what matters to the other side can be folly. Indeed, don’t even assume you know what matters for your side. “Assumptions about the appropriate price without confirmation of market value, the quality of the product without objective reports and testing, or the timing of shipments without the track record of the delivery company can lead to difficulty,” he says. Follow the immortal words of Ronald Reagan (based on a Russian proverb): Trust, but verify.
To help shape a deal, he recommends limiting choice since when overwhelmed with options people can close down, overwhelmed. Remember the power of testimonials: The more you can offer supportive commentary about your proposals from individuals and organizations the greater likelihood you have of winning the other party over. Focus on problem-solving. “My experience is that negotiators who adopt a problem-solving approach are more likely to sway their counterparts than those who are adversarial and contrarian. This means presenting your options or scenarios as possible solutions that meet the needs of both sides,” he says.
Mix up the environment: It can be very effective to change the setting of your negotiations in order to get out of a rut or logjam. This can be as simple as calling for a coffee break. He likes to invite the counterparty to go for a walk together outside. It can be effective to walk in step and talk through issues in a softer, more relaxed fashion.
The book is jammed with ideas and tips. Some of it will be familiar (although not necessarily advice you have been following) and some of it new. It’s presented in a friendly, conversational tone that will ease you through the pages.