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... still a totally disordered mix

Negotiation and Coaching

2021-07-13 — Michael Haupt

Having finished reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, I'd like to point to some relations between the negotiation techniques described in the book and coaching as defined and detailed by the ICF (as competencies and visible behaviours or "markers").

Reading the book, I found it striking how many of the coaching core competencies are also core ingredients of negotiations. At the more abstract level, this includes empathy, active listening, and building rapport. More concretely, techniques like building agreements about what the conversation is about, mirroring and labelling, and unveiling deeper insights come to mind. I cannot help but note that skilled coaches and negotiators will have methodical toolboxes the contents of which overlap considerably.

And yet, negotiation and coaching are strictly different. I believe this has to do with fundamental differences between the agenda, or intended outcome, of a coaching or negotiating conversation.

In a negotiation, the agenda isn't necessarily the negotiator's personal one, although that's possible. However, the negotiator is definitely accountable for both process and outcome. The negotiator represents a clear interest they are an agent of.

In coaching, the agenda is strictly the client's. While the coach is accountable for the process, the client is accountable for the outcome.

Conflating coaching and negotiation can be dangerous, and this goes both ways. The problems begin where techniques meant to be used in one setting are applied in the other.

Negotiation, quite frankly, is about getting to a desirable outcome, so the negotiator will use techniques that look a lot like manipulation. And they are: Negotiation frequently involves giving subtle or not-so-subtle guidance towards the intended outcome. In coaching, this is considered unethical. Open questions are a powerful tool in both formats, but asking open yet leading questions must stay in negotiation land, as using them in a coaching conversation would imply imposing the coach's view on the client.

Conversely, the almost total non-presence of the coach's ego in a coaching conversation would completely derail a negotiation, or even lead to the other party getting all they want. Negotiation requires presence with an intent that is usually not aligned with the counterpart's.

All of the above notwithstanding, I think there's one part in a coaching conversation where a little negotiation-style assertiveness can actually be beneficial. This is the case when a coaching conversation contains a bit about accountability, i.e., when the coach works with the client to support them to commit to implementing a change they've come to understand as necessary. In that particular setting, the client is still accountable for the outcome, but the coach's process accountability here can imply to guide the client to a commitment. Some of the negotiation techniques used to "get to yes" can be fruitful, however the coach must continue to pay attention to not impose their solution on the client.

(Disclaimer, for what it's worth: I'm on the ICF's ACC certification path, thanks to the ILAP training offered by Intellicoach.)

Tags: coaching