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A Systems Approach To Negotiations: The 3 S’s, Ep #89

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This week we’re chatting with Cal Chrustie, a war-time and hostage negotiation expert who now consults with organizations around the world. In this episode of the Negotiations Ninja, he talks about what he calls the three S’s—strategy, structure, and self. How do we strategize for negotiation? What’s the structure of a properly set up deal? And the third S—self: How do we go about understanding ourselves, our values, and what we are (and aren’t) capable of. Most importantly, what does it take to get the deal done from our own viewpoint? This is a fascinating conversation full of insights for professionals who’ve ever wondered how to apply systems thinking to negotiations.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:33] Cal Chrustie joins the Negotiations Ninja podcast!
  • [2:59] Cal’s history in the field of negotiation
  • [6:04] What is a ‘Wicked’ negotiation?
  • [7:30] What is a dead body exchange?
  • [8:19] Why are ‘good tactics’ not enough?
  • [13:07] The risk of not having a strategy
  • [16:17] Does North America embrace a focus that is too short-term?
  • [17:45] How does structure fit into the negotiation process?
  • [23:20] Where does the 3rd ‘S’—self—fit into the picture?
  • [33:10] How to connect with Cal online

Why strategy is an important piece of the puzzle

Strategy has to do with knowing your objectives and clearly articulating them. You can’t always assume your objective is clear, which is why it must be articulated. Cal is always certain to post clear objectives on a wall. Why? So they don’t lose sight of them. For example, in kidnapping and hostage negotiations, the #1 objective is the acquisition and safety of the hostage(s).

One would think that would be clear, but Cal shares an example where the team involved lost sight of the objective: A surveillance team had eyes on the kidnappers—and the hostage. However, instead of securing the hostage, they continued their surveillance because they thought it was more important. They lost sight of the main objective: Get the hostage.

In a heated hostage negotiation, when you’re under immense pressure, your emotions can overtake your logical mind. Having a strategy allows you to do the mental gymnastics to explore five or ten steps ahead—not simply one or two. The planning process should allow for fallback options, and keep the flow of the negotiation moving forward.

Strategizing should include exploring your opportunities and have an array of options available. You can lay out your objectives and spend time on critical and innovative thinking. It allows you to develop an out of the box contingency plan. Build tactical considerations within your plan, whether it’s interest-based or bargaining tactics. Without a proper strategy, the negotiation may seize up or stall.

Develop a proper team structure

When Cal talks about the importance of structure, he is talking about taking your strategy and tactics and effectively operationalizing and executing them with the right team surrounding you. Operations are the most critical part of negotiation—but no one talks about it. The missing element is always structure. A lot of negotiators refer to themselves as being “the most critical part of the negotiation process”. But the team environment and structure is just as important. Subject matter experts, advisors, trainers, coaches, etc. all play a critical role.

So when Cal develops a strategy and looks at the objectives, he designates coaches, mentors, advisors, and someone who understands the cultural dynamics (organizationally). The key to a successful negotiation is to build in subject matter experts and a team that understands those nuances and cultural diversity. It can be as simple as a one-man negotiation to a negotiation with a 20-person team with diverse backgrounds that can be leveraged.

Cal emphasizes that you must build your team structure around your strengths and weaknesses—because most negotiators can’t be strategic, pragmatic, AND empathetic. That’s why he specifically builds diversity within his negotiation teams—whether it be formally or informally, such as a coach or mentor—and selects people that are diverse in terms of experience.

Never forget the emotional component of self

The model that Cal relies on (strategy + structure + process + tactics = outcome) is a mathematical equation. But he circles it and labels it as “self”. Self is the emotional part of the negotiation that you have to factor in every negotiation. You have to consider the emotional element of the person that you’re negotiating with. You must utilize active listening and practice being in tune with the emotional activity in the interaction.

Call notes that everyone talks about negotiators as if they are someone who has magical powers to manipulate or influence people. He shares that the most difficult and complex negotiation that he’s ever been in was in the former Yugoslavia during the war, where he was dealing with kidnappings and body exchanges at a high-level intensity.

At that time, he admits he didn’t even know how to spell the word negotiation, nor did he know any tactics or strategies. He was thrown into a formal setting and told it was now his job. But he was very successful and achieved great results. Why? When he reflected on what made it successful, he realized he relied on himself.

He relied on being compassionate, respectful, and honest. He was a person of integrity. It was adhering to those principles and values that he learned through his life experiences that allowed him to achieve what he did. You must tap into who you are, know your strengths and weaknesses, and adhere to the principles you believe in. Throughout his career and education, Cal has recognized it’s critically important.

Cal also talks about wicked negotiations, dead body exchanges, and other hostage negotiation experiences that drive home the systems that he uses to negotiate. Don’t miss this educational and impactful episode!

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