Tools Of Change For Designers: Negotiating

There’s a natural inflection point where we shift from illuminating and educating to getting stuff done.  But getting stuff done often means negotiating, which is the third tool that designers have as agents of change; resetting priorities, making trade-offs, funding some projects and cancelling others.

If it were only up to you and me, this would be a snap. However, when other people are involved, it almost always means finding a compromise. Different perspectives mean different needs, interests and goals. Negotiating is about harmonizing your needs, interests and goals with those of others.

As a designer, you must bring together divergent perspectives in a way that allows you to move from conversation to commitment to ultimately action. Remember, your colleagues want to get stuff done too.

The road to becoming good at negotiating starts with developing the skill of asking precise questions and giving precise answers. PQ&A (Precision Questioning and Answering) accelerates conversations. And it involves learning to say “No” in ways that empower us to keep the conversation moving forward to get to the bigger “Yes.” Learning to negotiate is key. One of the best resources I have found on this is The Power of Positive No by William Ury.

Perceptual Positions

One way to help with negotiations is to practice changing perceptual positions. Try it: Imagine looking at somebody through your own eyes. That’s first position. Then, imagine what you look like from their point of view. That’s second position. Finally, imagine what you both look like from above. That’s third position. If you can see this with your mind’s eye, you’ve just experience the art of changing perceptual positions. Changing perceptual positions gives you information you otherwise wouldn’t have. Minimally, it slows you down just a bit…and forces you to walk, at least for a few moments, in somebody else’s shoes. Beyond that, it can help you manage your emotions better. See, if you are using your imagination to watch yourself, it’s hard to be truly angry or upset or disappointed.

Can you imagine how valuable it must be to see yourself through another’s eyes when you are negotiating? Designers are familiar with doing this because in our work we often represent the customers’ or users’ perspective. The trick is becoming more intentional in changing perceptual positions and figuring out how to use it to reach compromises that matter, to create a better reality.

Negotiating Includes Problem Solving

Problem solving is central to creating solutions. There’s an aphorism that says 50 percent of solving a problem is defining it. And the first step toward defining a “problem” is characterizing it accurately. For example, is it a:

·      Problem – Real problems can be solved.
·      Predicament – A problem that cannot be solved.
·      Quagmire – Where every attempt to solve it leaves you worse off.
·      Challenge – A chance to win by overcoming obstacles.
·      Opportunity – A valuable, potential benefit.

Negotiating is a nonviolent approach. There is no need for hostility – you’re not trying to bully people into agreement. Nor is negotiating about simply compromising – you don’t have to give in to get something. But you do have to ask for something specific, and you have to know what to ask for.

You have to help others see and tease out the criteria for what’s sufficient and for what’s hopelessly idealistic. See through their eyes, and help them discover what questions to ask. Negotiating implies a relationship, a partnership. As each party discovers what questions to ask, they discover how to get their needs met. This transforms the conversation from a battleground to a treasure hunt. The goal is to achieve something, both collectively and collaboratively, in order to reach the treasure, to find the prize.

When I am negotiating at work, I hear myself telling people, “What you’re working on is important. What I’m working on is important. We have a to work together to get to the great place we want to be.” Not a place where I want to be, where we want to be. The real trick is being mindful about how we get there.

Authentic Self Confidence Is The Key

The tools I’ve discussed so far prepare us for observing and getting oriented, to bringing others along and to get our needs met. This brings us to the brink of deciding. At this point, we as designers tend to get in our own way.

Somewhere deep inside of each of us is a joyful “Yes” and a feisty “No.” Only you can decide which is which: joy is “Yes,” regret is “No.” At the point you have to decide, you must choose. What do you trust to move forward?

To begin with, you have to trust yourself. You can’t trust yourself if you are willfully deceiving yourself; you have to trust your gut feeling, as data…your data! Sometimes you have to get to the bigger “Yes” by saying “No”.

Remember, as you negotiate, there’s an element of being right here, right now and knowing how to say “Yes” as well as “No” with grace. Give people, including yourself, the chance to be part of the story as the story unfolds.

Harry Max is Vice President of Experience Design for Rackspace. Harry’s role includes responsibility for everything experience: from product design to customer service tools to the employee experience. Be sure to visit the blog next week for Harry’s fourth tool of change for designers, Activating. Also check out Harry’s previous posts on Illuminating and Educating.


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