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Negotiating is part of daily life at home and at work, but learning how to negotiate successfully requires fine-tuning skills, learning from the past, and understanding our everyday default behavior—not unlike dancing, according to Professor Linda E. Ginzel.  

"It's reciprocity. It's give and take,” she said. 

Navigating contentious situations might seem even more daunting these days, when it feels like society is more divided than ever, said Ginzel, a clinical professor of managerial psychology at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

During a speech and interactive event organized by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Ginzel offered some tips for attendees struggling to make decisions or negotiate for what they want or believe in. 

Here are some helpful strategies: 

Turn off default mode.

Most people’s biases—good and bad—are silently running in the background of their decision-making. And since most people are “normal neurotics” that are relatively smart, successful, and boast higher self-esteem and sense of self, Ginzel said they’re often guilty of confirmation bias. They seek out people or information that “maintains or enhances their sense of self.” 

They’re also guilty of overconfidence. Research shows that when most people are 90 to 95 percent confident, the reality is they are right 65 to 70 percent of the time. But most people find reasons to explain away the discrepancy rather than acknowledge it. Turning off “default mode” is the key to making more informed choices. 

"When we stay on default, we just keep running our automatic programs, and we're fine. You're fine, but you can do better. And the way that you can figure that out is by experimenting—changing your behavior, practicing across time, collecting that data,” Ginzel said.

Build trust by listening.

Being a good negotiator requires a variety of skills, but one of the most important is learning to understand your partner, she said. You must learn how to build trust by asking a lot of questions, listening, and crafting a storyline or argument based on their interests. 

Successful negation also requires reframing how you view a discussion and changing your perspective from thinking it’s a competition—where one party wins and one party loses—to treating it as a collaboration, where both sides can win. 

Learn from experience.

There are two key skills in decision-making and negotiation: action skills and insight skills. Action skills are the ability to put conceptual knowledge into practice. Insights skills are the ability to learn the right lessons from experience—sometimes a far trickier skill, said Ginzel, because it concerns how you educate yourself. 

Most people have a tendency to view the actions of others—but not themselves—as independent of a wide range of contingencies, but the reality is we are all challenged by a wide range of uncertainties, Ginzel said.  

One way to begin to challenge yourself is to look at the connection between what you do, what you get, and what happens when you change your behavior even slightly. If you ask for something else or offer a different concession else, you can learn how those changes elicit different feedback from others.  

Don’t be afraid to push back.

While traditional wisdom may say to not push back against friends or colleagues, Ginzel said over time such behavior will erode value in the relationship. Instead, she said it is important if one cares about the relationship to push a little and ask the important questions to build trust over time and improve overall outcomes.  

“Don't fall into the trap of thinking let's just compromise because it's quicker, better, and simple. Over time this destroys value,” she said. 

The key to a successful negotiation is a successful trade. Each side should get something, said Ginzel, whether the negotiation takes place at the office or at home.  

“Before I was diminishing my own happiness, my own outcomes, and my own productivity by giving them what they want but not getting anything in return,” Ginzel said. “Give and get. Give and get. Make trades. That's the secret. Great negotiators are great traders.”

Linda E. Ginzel, a clinical professor of managerial psychology at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, specializes in the art of negotiation, management psychology, and executive development. She shared insights and social impact research with Booth alumni and business and social sector leaders during a Social Impact Leadership Series Event in early 2020 organized by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.

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