A trainer and coach offers four basic rules to help HR executives successfully navigate through emotionally charged confrontations. And the first rule? Maintain a sense of calm and open-mindedness.
In my work as a negotiation coach and trainer, I come across HR professionals all the time who don't fully appreciate the benefits of systematic negotiating skills to their daily dealings.
As HR professionals, you are involved in negotiations every day that affect the well-being of your organization and that of your employees -- pay and benefits, union demands, recruiter fees, legal issues surrounding firings, conflict resolution and so much more.
And yet for many HR professionals, a single MBA course in negotiation forms the basis of their knowledge on the subject. They've learned some concepts, but they haven't received real-world, hands-on training and practice -- a real shortcoming for developing solid negotiation skills.
I recently coached a dramatic event with an HR team that highlights the importance of having trained negotiators onboard who understand how to navigate through litigious, potentially disastrous situations using a systematic approach -- and how to do it calmly, ethically and fairly.
A multinational high-tech company had experienced a workplace tragedy: A foreign national employee had committed suicide while on the job -- at his desk, in front of co-workers.
Tremors were immediate throughout the global organization, from the chairman to the lowest-ranking employee. To complicate matters, the deceased employee's brother-in-law, who was American and spoke English, came to the front with demands on behalf of the immediate family -- which included a widow, two children, and elderly parents -- and was threatening a lawsuit if an exorbitant amount of money was not paid to the family in compensation.
He claimed that his brother-in-law's suicide was caused by overwork and undue workplace demands, and said he had a police report to prove it.
Before our team of negotiation coaches was brought into the process, the HR team had been attempting to make compromises with this man. The more the team tried to deal with him, the greater his demands and threats became. By the time we were contacted by the chairman to help hammer out a deal with the deceased employee's family, emotions were running high on both sides, and no one was being systematic or rational.
Rule No. 1: Stay emotionally neutral.
Practice having no emotions -- including neediness, excitement, hope, fear, frustration and anger. Various members of the HR team were angry, frustrated and scared as the man grew impatient and started making ultimatums and threatening publicity, lawsuits and police involvement.
Because the HR team had not been well trained in negotiation techniques, many mistakes had already been made. No good decision can take place in such an emotional pressure cooker. What's needed in a situation such as this is a sense of calm and open-mindedness.
Rule No. 2: Have a valid mission and purpose.
One never embarks on any type of negotiation without a valid mission and purpose. When constructed well, your mission and practice is the guiding principle that, when followed every step of the way, will never lead you to a bad decision.
Your M&P should be worded such that its aim or objective can readily be seen as beneficial by the other party.
In this case, we established that the company's M&P was to provide for the deceased employee's family by developing a financial foundation that would support them as they grieved for his loss and continued successful lives. This became the anchor for all dialogue that followed.
Every decision you make in the negotiation, every conversation you have with the other party has to honor and remain true to your M&P.
Rule No. 3: Only deal with the power holders.
In many situations, there's a blocker -- a person who intervenes on behalf of the other party. Dealing with this person will always lead down the wrong path.
A critical step we took to reverse the damage that had already been done was to bypass the blocker (in this case, the brother-in-law). From the time my coaching team came onboard, we determined that the late employee's direct family -- his widow and parents -- would be the audience for all future written correspondence.
Furthermore, all correspondence would be conducted in the family's native language.
Rule No. 4: Build a vision for the other party. The ultimate goal in any negotiation is to show the other party that, by agreeing to your proposal, it will benefit them. And that by not agreeing to it, they will not earn that benefit.
In this case, the company offered the widow spousal support, education support for her two children, child support, parental support for her elderly parents, bereavement relief and an employee donation matched by the company.
On the one hand, the brother-in-law was threatening to sue for millions. On the other, we made it clear that we would only talk to the widow, only negotiate with her, on (our) very controlled, rational and civilized terms. The choice for her became clear.
When you take the emotions out of the negotiation equation -- and this includes the desire to be friends or reach a compromise -- and make each decision, each step of the way, based solely on your mission and purpose and the sound decisions that preceded it, you can build a vision for the other party that achieves your original aims.
These are a few of the best practices HR professionals can use to avoid costly or harmful outcomes.
In this example, we followed a deliberate methodology so that all aspects of this horrendous event were catalogued and each negotiation planned for. Coordination was established across all stakeholders and participants. Plans for each negotiation were effectively executed.
As a result, agreements were made with the immediate family and within company policies. Threats stopped, employee morale was almost immediately restored and work at the company resumed. Now HR could step in and arrange for counseling of traumatized employees to start.
The moral of this story? By the very nature of your job description, you need to deal with people in a careful, systematic way.
People's lives, situations and emotions are complex and unpredictable. In HR, intuition, empathy and adherence to company policies may get you by some of the time, but when it comes to navigating through legal labyrinths, highly charged emotional minefields and financial traps, you need a sound, structured approach.
In my experience, HR pros armed with real-world negotiation training find themselves well-equipped for any situation that arises in the workplace.