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I recently had a conversation with a retail dietitian on the topic of partnerships between the dietitian team and category leaders/buyers/merchandisers within the organization. These cross-functional conversations are critical to creating successful promotions and elevating the role of retail dietitians. However, it can be tough to steer the conversations. This leader shared that she has been teaching her team to walk the path to yes.

Picture this scenario – category leaders, buyers and merchandisers have returned from an expo after learning about great new products hitting the market. They have big ideas about promoting these immune-boosting, health-promoting, or age-defying products. Maybe it’s not that grandiose of a claim, but they may have invited you to the table because they see the benefit in using health claims or product attributes to sell this product, and they want your help. This can be a trigger for retail dietitians to go into “we can’t say that” mode. Even if it is an unrealistic claim or a product you’re not sure about yet, rather than starting with a “no” response, you should instead walk the path to yes.

Nearly a decade ago, William Ury, author, anthropologist, academic and negotiation expert, offered up a simple (but not easy) way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations. His examples, while not specific to the retail industry, show how anyone can negotiate successfully. He explains that there are always two sides to a conflict, and then there is a third side. The third side of the conflict is us or the surrounding community. The fundamental role of the surrounding community is to remind the parties what is at stake – meaning that we can remind those involved to focus on common interests (after all, you’re working together to increase sales for your retailer) and create opinions that will satisfy both parties. While you may not have a third person in the conversation, you can take a step back – “go out to the balcony” – and return with the third side perspective. The goal as you walk the path is not a compromise. The goal is collaboration with a mutually beneficial outcome.

In addition to sharing this simple approach to create agreement in his TEDx Talk, Ury also shares stories and anecdotes about how walking this path can “make people visible” in a community that may be overlooking them. He also shares a parable to highlight that reframing a situation can allow you to easily see the positive outcome. The talk may be dated, but it is worth a listen.

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