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In 1982, talks on nuclear arms reduction between the United States and the Soviet Union in Geneva were at an impasse when chief negotiators Paul Nitze and Yuli Kvitsinsky bumped into each other at the retreat centre and decided to take what has become a famed walk in the nearby woods. They talked about the negotiations and its complexities, their own background, careers and families, and then used their shared expressed desire to break the impasse to explore how to reach a solution.

In the new book You’re It, four consultants argue you can use a walk in the woods technique to break past barriers in your own negotiations – with colleagues, clients, merger partners and others. The method devised by Leonard Marcus, Eric McNulty, Joseph Henderson and Barry Dorn builds on the Getting To Yes framework pioneered by the Harvard Negotiation Project, and revolves around four sequential steps to build trust among the two parties:

  • Self-interest: Each party discusses the problem with a focus on their own interests. They share what they hope to accomplish and why that is fair, explaining their values, motives and fears. These talks might have an outside facilitator. There will be wide gaps between the two parties in at least some areas; that’s why you are taking this metaphorical walk. But the consultants say you can expect some softening of tone and easing of defensiveness through respectful sharing and listening.
  • Enlarged interests: The parties now look for points of agreement between the parties and also outline the points of disagreement. If you’re in a conference room, write them down on the whiteboard for everyone to see. Usually the agreements will outnumber the disagreements. “This realization reframes the discussion, stimulating the search for solutions that resolve differences,” they write.
  • Enlightened interests: That leads to thinking creatively about new possibilities that resolve the disagreements. The consultants have found that usually involves ideas not considered by anyone prior to the walk. This should be framed as a “no-commitment zone” in which any idea is permissible. The goal is ingenuity, not editing or deciding. After the brainstorming, ideas are assigned a number from one to three. If everyone agrees on an idea it gets a one. If there is clear disagreement, that’s a three. Two goes for situations where there is ambiguity on whether agreement or disagreement exists. Those then get re-examined to see whether they can be assigned to one of the other categories. “Points assigned a one are the deal-makers and those given a three are the deal-breakers. It is important to know what is newly possible, and it is just as important to know what is impossible,” the consultants note.
  • Aligned interests: The momentum now leads to a final stage of further solution building, with give-and-take bargaining. The parties need to decide what are “must haves,” “nice to haves” and “don’t needs.” Not everything will necessarily be resolved but one hopes an agreement can be forged and that acts as a trust builder for future collaboration.

“The walk can become part of your group’s vocabulary, thinking and culture. At the earliest sign of a problem, someone suggests, ‘let’s take a Walk on that.’ This is a gentle way of suggesting that there is a problem requiring attention and a reminder that it can be addressed without blaming, raising voices or allowing issues to fester to the point of confrontation,” they say.

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You may not negotiate arms treaties but a walk in the woods might help in your office.

Quick hits

  • Next time you feel under siege, keep in mind that when Babe Ruth was considered for entry to the Hall of Fame in the 1936 inaugural voting 11 baseball writers effectively voted against him by leaving him off their list of 10 preferences. “If Babe Ruth gets eleven ‘no’ votes, why are we so worried about the noisy critic in the corner?” asks entrepreneur Seth Godin.
  • At the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, CEO Tim Cook said that Apple’s operating system has the highest customer satisfaction rate in the industry at 97 per cent. His presentation slide had that number, huge, with a small sentence beneath it saying customer satisfaction for iOS12. Presentations expert Carmine Gallo says in Inc. you should follow that technique, avoiding slides filled with numbers and words – go big, go bold with one theme, one number – per slide.
  • Microsoft is adding a new artificial intelligence assistant to PowerPoint called Presenter Coach, which during rehearsal mode will offer feedback on your presentation through listening to audio from your computer’s microphone.
  • Résumé expert Tina Nicolai advises avoiding a “responsible for” bullet when discussing your career roles since it doesn’t indicate what you accomplished. Instead list what you actually achieved.
  • Studies of people facing aversive challenges found the strategies correlated with success were: Thinking about the positive consequences of getting to the end, monitoring goal progress, thinking that the end is near and emotional regulation, such as trying to stay in a good mood.

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