Three Negotiation Tactics Every EDI Leader Should Know

Dwaine Taylor

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Despite extensive research that proves investing in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives is good for organizational productivity, profitability and retention, EDI leaders often face barriers to introducing and implementing new initiatives in the workplace.

The ‘pushback’ EDI leaders experience is most often in for form of limiting internal resources for and questioning the efficacy of, EDI initiatives.

While formal negotiations and conversations about organizational EDI priorities differ, the tactics and methodologies used by professional negotiators can help EDI leaders overcome pushback.

Here are three negation tactics every EDI leader should know.

The Values Affirmation

Values Affirmations are one of the most effective negotiation tactics to open EDI discussions. The tactic requires that your counterpart affirm their commitment to a shared value. Aligning your values with your counterpart’s positions you as ‘on their side’ in the negotiation and makes them more susceptible to supporting a mutually beneficial outcome. Additionally, posing questions that require your counterpart to reaffirm your shared values acts as a grounding technique when negotiations escalate. Reaffirmation forces your counterpart to continue engaging in the conversation to reach a consensus or recant their stated values – a challenging task when discussing equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Here’s an example of how the Values Affirmation might play out in a conversation between a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who hesitates to fund a permanent senior EDI role and the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHO) who proposed it.

CHO: Do you remember what you said when you recruited me to work here?
CEO: Yes. I told you I’m looking for an HR leader who values people, not process – someone who shapes our culture. 
CHO: Right. What I’m proposing is precisely that. We need someone with expertise to focus on people who have and continue to experience oppression and marginalization. That’s how we build and ultimately maintain a culture of inclusion.
CEO: I don’t know. What you are proposing seems counter-intuitive. If we need a permanent EDI role, it means our culture is permanently flawed. We shouldn’t need someone responding to complaints of racism forever because we should focus on eradicating racism from our culture. I’m happy to fund training and strategists to help get us in line – but we shouldn’t need a long-term role. It’s not that I don’t believe in the work; I just don’t think this is the most effective way to do it.
CHO: I know you believe in the work – I do too. We both want the same thing. A company and community where everyone knows they belong, and inclusion is the standard. Would you agree with that?
CEO: Of course. Our goals are the same. Our approach is different.
CHO: Your right. Our goals are the same. So let’s discuss how to achieve them. Let me walk you through why I think a permanent role is the right approach, and then we can go from there. Is that fair?
CEO: Alright, I’ll hear you out. 

– EDI Negotiation Tactics Scenario, newpact

In this scenario, the Values Affirmation helps the CHO overcome the CEO’s initial reluctance and hear the entire proposal. While both parties must continue negotiations, a shared commitment to the outcome allows them to focus on consensus building. Additionally, should negotiations escalate, the CHO can de-escalate by asking the CEO to reaffirm their commitment by stating, “Let’s focus on our shared goal. We still both want a company and community where everyone knows they belong, and inclusion is the standard, right?”

The Accusation Audit

The Accusation Audit was popularized by Chris Voss of the Black Swan Group – a professional negotiation institute. The method is designed to preemptively ‘disarm’ your counterpart by speculating and bringing to the forefront of the interaction, all possible negative perceptions they may have about you or the initiative you are proposing. Whether or not your counterpart holds all the perceptions you speculate isn’t critical to the success of this tactic. The process is designed to present you as understanding of opposing views – this quickly and efficiently builds rapport. The best possible outcome is that your counterpart will feel you are unfair to yourself or your work and become more susceptible to a mutual agreement. The more probable outcome is that your counterpart becomes more comfortable openly discussing their principal objection with you because you have preemptively addressed it.

Here’s an example of how the Accusation Audit might play out in a conversation between a VP of Human Resources who recently denied a proposal for a company-wide mandatory anti-racism training program and the new Director of EDI who proposed it.  

Director of EDI: You probably think that I’m an idealist, that this training isn’t necessary for the whole company, or that I don’t understand the logistical challenges and financial implications associated with rolling out a company-wide training program on short notice. 

VP of HR: I don’t think you’re an idealist, and I agree that a training program like this is essential for the whole company. We’ve had a lot of challenges in this space recently. It’s not even about the money – the budget is there. But you are right – I’m deeply concerned about how to get this work done. We need more resources to coordinate our optional training programs, much less mandatory training for the whole company. I don’t think it’s logistically possible.

Director of EDI: I’m glad you brought that up. Frankly, I wasn’t sure it was either. That why I develop a staged rollout plan that should limit the strain on existing resources. I’d appreciate your feedback on it. Can I walk you through the entire proposal, and then we can go from there?

– EDI Negotiation Tactics Scenario, newpact

In this scenario, the Accusation Audit helps identify the VP of Human Resources principal objection; this gives the Director of EDI clarity on why the proposal was initially denied and how to approach the situation moving forward – focus on the logistics.

The “What Needs to be True” Test

What if you don’t know what your counterpart’s principal objection is? In that case, the “What Needs to be True” test is helpful. The tactic is best utilized when your counterpart is disengaged, providing limited information, or reluctant to negotiate at all. Asking “what needs to be true,” followed by your core objective, accelerates the negotiation process by forcing your counterpart to articulate their principal objection. Once their principal objection has been identified, you can determine whether it can be addressed or if the effort is futile. 

Here is an example of how the “What Needs to be True” Test might play out in a scenario involving a conversation between a Director of Student Affairs and an EDI Program Lead about increasing the EDI programming budget.

EDI Program Lead: We’ve had this conversation many times before, I’m really hoping we can change the outcome this time. As you know, our programming budget has stayed the same for three years, but the school’s athletics program has doubled their budget in that time. Our events are well attended, students report a greater sense of belonging on campus, and we’ve supported dozens of faculty members with EDI research funding proposals. Yet, every year, there’s no additional funding available for EDI programming and I’ve never been told why. What needs to be true for our department to receive a budget increase?

Director of Student Affairs: That’s a fair question. Your team has been very successful, and I understand that it appears that EDI programming isn’t being prioritized compared to other areas of the school. Our situation is that the funding allocated for EDI programming comes from a fixed five-year term grant – it’s not core institutional funding. No team in the Student Affairs division has recieved additional core funding recently. Athletics is an outlier because it is donor funded. So for the EDI department to receive a budget increase, you’ll need the VPs to allocate additional core funding, which isn’t likely. Or, you can fundraise.

EDI Program Lead: Okay, that clarifies things. What about both options? Can we work with the advancement (fundraising) team to court donors in the short term? And work together to create an appeal to the VPs for core funding in the long term?

Director of Student Affairs: I don’t think core funding is an option. I have zero say in that process, and our track record isnt good, but I’m open to fundraising.

– EDI Negotiation Tactics Scenario, newpact

In this scenario, the EDI Programming Lead identified why their programming budget has stayed the same and determined that their director isn’t the principal decision maker for long-term funding. The EDI Program Lead can now refocus their energy on short-term efforts with their director (fundraising) and knows they need the ear of the school’s financial decision-makers for a long-term funding proposition.

More to Consider

EDI work is more than training and programs; it’s strategy, management, operations and governance too. Investing in the right EDI approaches for your organization is critical for success.

Book a meeting with our team to learn more about how newpact can help you create and sustain meaningful change.

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