(An earlier version of this article was published in 2009 at EnjoyMediation.com. It is still very relevant today, especially given the current Government shutdown and apparent stalemate in negotiations.)
Build a golden-what?
What does a bridge, no less a 'golden' one, have to do with mediation and negotiation? Well, the term is from William Ury's book, Getting Past No [here at Amazon and many others].
Building a golden bridge refers to making sure you have satisfied and overcome the the four common obstacles to an agreement: involving them in devising a solution, meeting unmet interests, helping them save face and finally making the process as simple and easy as possible.
There is much more to just making an attractive offer to the other party. If the above listed criteria are not satisfied, you might find yourself making what you think is the best offer for them, and then surprisingly they reject it.
As the current government shutdown continues down what is seemingly an intractable path, the following tips are all the more relevant.
1) Have everyone involved in building/writing the agreement
It is known that an agreement has a greater chance to be long lasting when the parties involved in the agreement also have input into what the agreement states. Even the best agreements can fail, or not even get finalized, if a party feels that they are being shut out. Simple ways to ensure everyone is involved is to ask them questions like, "what do you think?", "how do you see it?", "what should we do?"
Even if you are the one who suggested the idea earlier, do not take credit for it. You can say, "As we mentioned earlier," or to connect your comments with theirs, as Ury states, you can say something like, "Building on what you said earlier..."
Remember, keep focused on the goal—getting an agreement that will have you better off than your alternative. This is called your BATNA (use this acronym and impress your friends or fellow Congressmen—BATNA is Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). So, if this means taking a bite of "humble pie" and letting the other side think they came up with the idea that is good- you not only built them a Golden Bridge, you also got what you wanted.
2) Look beyond the obvious interests (i.e. money) to include other, not-so-obvious interests
Yes, your negotiation might be about money but many times there is more to it than just that. Satisfying the amount of money to be paid will not get an agreement if other interests are not met. Remember, everyone is different and unique and thus not everyone has the same values as you. Money might be your bottom line, but they might be equally interested in saving face (the next one I discuss), the importance of the relationship and/or keeping the name of the company/business, etc.
In case you forgot about the wheel of conflict, have a look [here]. It explains different common elements that can create disputes and conflicts: emotions, history, structure, communication, and values.
Ury adds to make sure the basic human needs are not overlooked as well: security, recognition, and control over their own fate.
3) Saving face.
Just recently I mediated a case involving thousands of dollars, and through various offers and counter offers, we were able to whittle it down to a difference of only $500. Yes, that's all it was but both sides dug their heals. Why? Both wanted to save face and 'beat' the other. They had made this far into the negotiation and so close to a deal but still needed to save face with themselves, in the eyes of the other party, and with their peers.
So how do you get beyond that? Remind yourself, and them, the only way for an agreement to be achieved is if both side's interests are being met. Also, put yourself in the other party's shoes and help them. Yes, help them!
This is a collaborative effort, so if they need to save face, give them help on how the potential agreement can do that.
Ury adds other valuable options such as seeking the advice of a neutral third party and finding a standard fairness.
Also, don't be afraid to let them take credit. On page 124, Ury mentions a great quote attributed to a Washington, D.C. politician:
"There is no limit to how much you can accomplish in this town if you are willing to allow someone else to take the credit."
Saving face plays a prominent role in many negotiation sessions, especially crisis and hostage negotiation incidents (the current topic of my research). During the surrender ritual (or when the person decides to voluntarily turn themself over to law enforcement authorities), the negotiator has to make sure often that the person is able to "save face," otherwise chances of a surrender diminish greatly.
This is not just limited to crisis and hostage negotiations as I mentioned above in the $500 example. This might be easily overlooked but expert negotiators make sure to take face-saving measures of their counterpart into account.
4) Keep it simple.
Yes, keep it simple means try not to lump everything together but rather take it step by step. At times, taking care of each issue alone will help things move faster by actually going slower. Yes, I am saying go slow to go fast (I am actually repeating it, Ury said it first and yes, a very popular book also talks about it).
People might like to slow things down too, because getting to an agreement too fast, on what is something very important to them might make them hesitate in making that final agreement just on the fact it's happened too fast.
Finally, if issues are related, it might be better waiting to try and get commitments on each until the end. This is true especially if the connected issues are complicated. Start with the stand-alone easier issues, build "yes's" (or aggreements) and work with the rapport that was created to then attempt to negotiate the tougher issues.
I hope this Golden Bridge list of tips helps you in your future negotiations, I can tell you it has for me in variety of settings. If you do find them interesting, I highly suggest you get the book. Maybe buy two and give one to the leaders in Congress!
Jeff Thompson is currently a Research Fellow at Columbia University Law School researching crisis and hostage negotiation. He is also detective, mediator, and conflict resolution specialist. Jeff is also researching nonverbal communication and mediators at Griffith University Law School.