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Position is not everything


One of the first things you learn in any negotiation training is never to negotiate straight away on positions.

To which I add, avoid having conversations about positions as much as you can.

Let’s say a member of your team comes to you to ask if he can change the date for delivering the part of the project he’s in charge of.

You know that if his part of the project is not delivered on time you’ll face massive disruption, so you say no.

He comes back, insisting that he won’t be able to deliver on time, and why.

You’re starting to lose your patience.

You really want to close the conversation, and you say “The answer is no. Sorry, it can’t be done.

This part needs to be delivered on time as we agreed.”

This conversation is about two positions: - Position A: I need more time to deliver. - Position B: You don’t have more time.

In these terms, the only possible result of the conversation is that one wins and other loses in relation to their position.

Either you get more time or you don’t.

When we have a conversation around positions we’re missing important information that can be extremely valuable for the future of the project and the relationship dynamics among the people in your team.

For example, you could ask:

- What isn’t working right for you? - What are you missing that you need to achieve what we agreed on? - What have you tried so far? - What is your priority? - Is your priority consistent with your goal? - What are your assumptions? - Have you tested these assumptions? - How do you know more time will make a difference?

Our positions are determined by our assumptions and beliefs; in this case, ‘I need more time to achieve my goal’.

Negotiating and talking about assumptions rather than positions (do I get more time or not?) can elicit completely different conversations and results.

We can uncover information and possible solutions that explore how the project can be done on time, and even if that’s not possible, how to get more time with minimal disruption.

And if you’re still tempted to think that negotiating on position will always get you the best results, watch this:


Remember, getting to know the other person’s interests and assumptions will always improve your chances of a better conversation and a better agreement.

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