Teaching some executive-MBA students in Singapore highlighted some important negotiation lessons we can all incorporate.
• Parties frame issues differently.
Back in law school, I remember a conversation with a first-year student who knew his subjects well but had done poorly on his first-semester exams. Why?
He framed the issues differently from the professor and most other law students. As an art-history major in college, he was not accustomed to linear, logical analysis and thought. Instead, he viewed things in a more holistic and creative environment.
I was reminded of this conversation when I was in Singapore, as I had students from Indonesia, Thailand, India, Italy, Denmark and Russia plus Singapore (70 percent of whom are culturally Chinese).
In our in-class negotiations, it became apparent that some of the students were on different wavelengths. While some of the different perspectives were cultural, many were not.
For example, those who worked for large corporations generally had a different mindset than those who ran family businesses. There were also generational differences in approach. Some even ignored their in-class negotiation instructions as it conflicted with their perception of what should be on the table in these negotiations.
Bottom line: Different minds frame issues in different ways.
So what should we do? Find out how your counterparts tend to approach issues. Explore their dominant frame of reference. Then incorporate this into your strategic negotiation plan, understanding that tendencies like these may change in different circumstances.
• The value of creativity.
In Singapore, I met a Texas native who was transferred there with a large corporation and subsequently started several of his own entrepreneurial efforts. One of his observations was that the culture in Singapore tended to devalue certain types of creativity.
While this opened up opportunities for him, a lack of creativity and an inability to generate options outside the box is a distinct disadvantage in many negotiations.
Personally, I don’t know if there is a Singaporean tendency in this regard, especially as my students exhibited significant creativity in several negotiation environments. Regardless, there is no doubt that creative and sometimes unconventional approaches toward negotiations can make or break a deal.
• Account for unpredictability.
This was my second trip to Singapore, and I was struck once again with the logical efficiency with which it appears to function. Suffice it to say that the proverbial trains run on time.
And yet, Singapore continues to have certain challenges, even traffic ones as I personally experienced. Why? Because humans can be unpredictable, in negotiations and in life. So even strongly incentivizing behavior you want to promote – as Singapore does by charging higher tolls during heavy traffic and less during down times – may not solve the problem.
Likewise, sometimes we try to predict parties' negotiation behavior based on precedent, their incentives and our perception of their interests. These predictive elements are critical. But we are still sometimes surprised.
This, of course, makes certain negotiators particularly challenging with which to deal. If you do your homework and research their reputations, you can predict some of their unpredictability.