Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Selling Horses, Saving Face

A good friend in the horse industry, with whom I did business with for several years, once told me that for a good deal to be struck, both parties needed to emerge from the deal happy.  What he was articulating to me is called "saving face" and is an important part of any negotiation, whether it is between two corporations or two individuals.  The definition of 'face' is that which affects our personal self-image, such as dignity, honor, status, or pride, and can fluctuate based on what we perceive as feedback within an interaction with another person.  In other words, it can be taken away, such as when we feel we have been insulted or threatened, and it can be given, such as when our worth is acknowledged, we are complimented and treated with respect.

When we practice the art of saving face, we are attempting to save face for ourselves, but also for the party with whom we are negotiating, and in doing so, we are helping to ensure that a deal comes out good for everyone involved.  In horses, that could mean the two parties reach a sale price on a horse that both the buyer and seller feel is appropriate.  But more importantly, it means that even if you don't reach an agreement on a price or other details, you both can walk away with dignity intact, and hopefully, with friendships and future business possibilities intact too.

The dance of negotiation is a delicate one, and is influenced by many different variables.  Dr. Stella Ting-Toomey did the most comprehensive study of face negotiation theory that I could find to (at least partially) explain how these variables work within a negotiation.  Her studies have won her accolades, and many of her concepts where introduced to me when I was studying communication in college.   She is a trainer, consultant and mediator for major corporations and universities, so her concepts have been proven in the real world.

First, let us consider a person's conflict style.  According to Dr. Ting-Toomey, these are:
  1. Dominating-emphasizes a person’s own position, one person asserts their dominance over the other, win-lose
  2. Avoiding-involves eluding the conflict topic, situation and party altogether, lose-lose as neither party wins and the conflict goes unresolved
  3. Obliging-characterized by high concern for the other’s interest above own, one individual gives in to the demands of the other, this is a lose-win situation and is useful when one party is not fully committed to his/her position
  4. Compromising-is the give-and-take approach, both parties give something up in order to find a middle ground and reach a solution, this is a lose-lose although a positive solution may result and is useful when both parties are equally committed to their positions
  5. Integrating-reflects high concern for one’s self and the other, win-win useful when both parties are equally committed to their positions and results in a positive solution for both parties.
The style in which you operate, along with the degree to which you attempt to protect mutual face-interest -  how diplomatic you are - is generated by the culture in which you were raised. Here in the US, we are collectively an individualistic culture, so we tend to favor the more direct routes to conflict, but on an individual basis, we certainly vary within these styles, sometimes from moment to moment!

Dr. Ting- Toomey also details another facet of negotiation that I find interesting: face content domains, which are the levels in which a person will engage in saving face.  They are:

  1. Autonomy-represents our need for others to acknowledge our independence, self-sufficiency, privacy, boundaries, and non-imposition.
  2. Inclusion-our need to be recognized as worthy companions, likeable, agreeable, pleasant, friendly, cooperative
  3. Status-need for others to admire our tangible and intangible assets or resources: appearance, attractiveness, reputation, position, power, and material worth
  4. Reliability-need for others to realize that we are trustworthy, dependable, reliable, loyal, and consistent in words and actions
  5. Competence-need for others to recognize our qualities or social abilities such as intelligence, skills, expertise, leadership, networking, conflict mediation, and problem-solving skills
  6. Moral-need for others to respect our sense of integrity, dignity, honor, propriety, and morality
The above is basically a list of all the ways that you must try to satisfy the person you are negotiating with, or conversely, all the ways that you could offend them.  Like the conflict styles, the amount of energy that you put into each of these different domains is determined by your personal upbringing.  There are some people that truly need to feel included more than anything, some need to prove their competence or intelligence, and others that are driven by status.

In becoming a more competent negotiator, you need to know what drives you; however you'd like to evaluate that is fine - take the face content domains, rank them 1 through 6 in importance, or make a pie chart and decide what percentage out of 100% each represents to you.  Or maybe one just simply jumps out as you as your own personal Achilles Heel.   Look again at the list of conflict styles, and honestly ask yourself what your modus operandi is; do you try as much as possible to avoid conflict?  Do you truly know how to negotiate, or do you attempt to dig in until the other party gives in?

Next, ask yourself, how committed are you to helping the person you are negotiating with to save face?  You can see how there would be a WIDE variability on how much a person cares about making the other person feel good about the negotiation; some people simply don't care what the other person feels, as long as their personal needs are met.

So what if you don't bother trying to help your 'opponent' save face?  What does it matter?  It could matter a great deal in the long run.  According to Dr. Chester Karrass, another negotiation expert, "During a negotiation, when our self-image is threatened, hostility emerges. When an individual feels threatened they may make threats of their own, walk away, or become apathetic—but all usually get angry. Experiments show that people, given a chance, retaliate against the person who attacks their ego. Those who have "lost face" are willing to suffer losses to themselves if they can cause the abuser to suffer."  In this age of instant global communication, youtube, and all the social networks, the deal between two people over a horse that cost $X can turn into a huge mess that costs $X x10 in legal fees, loss of business and reputation, not to mention the personal losses and stress associated with being drug through the mud.  It pays to care about the other person in the deal.

In order to really learn and use the concepts presented here, one must look at themselves objectively.  Realize that You are not your conflict style, nor your face-content domain.  Rather, you are capable of using the style of your choosing at any time, and can also choose to emphasize and express different needs depending on the situation. That part is within your control. Secondly, put yourself in the other person's shoes.  Be aware of their needs and take responsibility for your actions toward those needs.  More than anything, recognize that you don't 'win' when the other person walks away defeated.