Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, is a popular book about negotiation skills and a favorite of consultants and trainers. In my mind, the most valuable nugget in the book is “separate the people from the problem.” When you ask participants in a training or team building session what this means, most of them invariably say it means to focus on the problem and not let people issues or emotional issues get in the way. But actually, it means just the opposite; the people issues are so important that you’ve got to identify, separate and deal with them first, or else you won’t get anywhere with the substance of the problem.
I was thinking recently about how to convince stoic employees of this point–employees who believe that emotions have no place in the office. Here’s a good story: a few years ago, my brother and I were struggling to hold on to a piece of commercial real estate that was no longer cash flowing enough to pay the mortgage. We’d been forced into a management contract with a company we didn’t want to work with, and we felt they were taking advantage of us and had failed to go the extra mile in getting the property leased up. It was a situation that had gone on for many years, and we were frustrated and angry, especially with the owner of the management company.
After about a year of negotiating with the bank and looking at various options, it came down to this:
1. We could lose the property to the bank; or
2. We could accept a deal from the management company owner, a man we’d come to think of as an evil manipulator, a deal that would make us more beholden to him and would prolong the management contract–and thus the unwanted relationship– indefinitely.
We chose to lose the property.
Not convinced yet that the people issues must be dealt with first? Then here’s one more detail: We lost 1.2 million dollars on that deal. And we still don’t regret our decision.