Power Players

The No. 1 negotiation lesson Trump's border talks teach

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While the government shutdown ended (temporarily) last week, the drama continues, even as a group of bipartisan lawmakers meet to find common ground on border security.

President Donald Trump said yesterday the talks were a "waste of time" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear that no funding would be made available for a border wall.

While many like the tone and direction of the current bipartisan talks, an impasse has lasted for weeks as Democratic leaders and the president held to their positions on Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall.

The situation highlights a key lesson about bargaining that's easy to overlook, according to Amy Gallo, a Harvard Business Review expert and author of the book "HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict. " Negotiation isn't about winning and losing, but collaborating. Says Gallo, it's not a "zero sum game."

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Collaboration, she tells CNBC Make It, "is about about creating a situation where people get at least some of their interests met."

Since it requires the most creativity, collaboration can be one of the trickiest negotiation strategies, says G. Richard Shell, a director of the Wharton Executive Negotiation Workshop and author of the book "Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People. "

"Collaboration isn't 'fold your cards and make peace,'" he tells CNBC Make It. "It's an art."

Trump, as some experts have pointed out, has often preferred an "all or nothing" strategy that he honed as a real estate mogul and that can often work in business.

Collaboration "isn't part of [Trump's] game plan," says Shell. That reality could make talks difficult for the congressional negotiators who must strike a deal by February 15 or face another possible government shutdown when funding lapses.

The last shutdown lasted a record-setting 35 days and cost the country $11 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

To be sure, political negotiations like this one are not the typical bargaining situations most people find themselves in, says Gallo. Still, they can highlight the importance of strategies that keep talks moving forward.

As politicians wrangle their own solutions to the border talks, here are four steps to help anyone keep collaborating when talks break down.

1. Be prepared

Before any talk, think through your wants and needs, and assess your goals. "You can't ask what someone else's interests are if you don't know your own brain," says Gallo.

Focusing on your needs and motivations can help you brainstorm the most alternatives to get those needs met.

By contrast, focusing on just one specific demand can lead to a "line in the sand" approach that can limit your options.

Additionally, ask yourself what you know about your counterpart, says Gallo. What is most important to this person?

Consider that person's behavior, too. Is your counterpart open minded? Changeable? Flippant? Think about any patterns of behavior that you've seen in the past.

Taking the time to think through these factors is essential. As Shell found in one research study he conducted, those who formally prepared for a negotiation reached better resolutions for themselves and their opponents than those who did not.

2. Avoid assumptions and attacks

If you've reached an impasse, chances are emotions are charged. Those who find themselves in this situation should step back, writes Shell. Calm yourself first, to break the "attack-attack" cycle. Consider apologizing to build rapport.

If someone has been difficult in the past, don't just assume he or she is simply impossible, warns Gallo. Differing interests, perspectives or assumptions don't automatically make a person irrational, she says. "Chances are there are points of agreement that you can unite on get to a resolution."

And don't be so certain you'll win your position. If you do, you might find yourself blindsided, says Gallo. A better approach is to believe you'll do whatever you can to find a solution.

3. Make one small step

If you've reached an impasse, don't attack your opponent's principles, says Shell. Instead, he suggests you look for ways to make "one small step" toward finding common ground.

You might not need to make any sort of concession, writes Shell. The step might be as simple as putting aside any past ugliness or creating a way the other person could save face.

Even when it seems you can't agree on anything, chances are you can agree on something small, like when you could next sit down and talk.

Switch your tactics to talk about process, not principles. "The key is to sort of pave the way toward collaboration," says Gallo. "If we can just start to make small agreements, then we've started down the right path."

4. Ask question after question

Skilled negotiators aren't afraid to ask questions, say experts. In fact, studies have shown that skilled negotiators are twice as likely to ask questions as average negotiators, writes Shell.

Keep your questions open-ended and focus more on receiving information that sharing information, suggests Shell. "Blabbermouth negotiators" will carelessly talk when they should be listening, he writes.

These questions can help you better understand your counterpart. In some cases, says Shell, you might even use them to help the other side redefine the debate, as you better understand that person's values.

In asking questions, you're really looking to spark that collaboration process to generate as many options as possible to solve the problem at hand. "You're looking for a win-win," says Gallo. "You want to collaborate with your counterpart rather than creating a contentious debate."

By the time you have a solution to propose, you want that solution to "meet as many of your own interests as well as your counterpart's as possible," says Gallo. You may not end up with exactly what you want, but if you've prepared carefully, "you can still have your interests met."

The White House and the speaker's office did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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