For most people, having to negotiate probably ranks right up there with undergoing a root canal procedure or even public speaking. And yet, we all face many instances in both our professional and personal lives where we have to negotiate. M&A deals, supplier contracts, agreeing merchandising displays at retail stores are all business activities that involve extensive negotiation. But so too does asking for a raise or promotion. Persuading one’s child to go to bed on time or trying to get the salesman at the used car dealership to agree to a lower price are also examples of “negotiation”.
Despite the all-pervasive nature of negotiations, the process is something few of us enjoy. This is because some of us are not assertive enough and are unable to articulate our expectations and position firmly. In some cases, the two parties are not clear about what each of them values in a given situation and thus, what each is willing to give up to get what they value. In certain cultural settings, age and hierarchy also deter effective negotiations.
As Minerva Acevedo says in the LS International Career Success podcast, “negotiations may seem like an intimidating process because our egos get in the way and we let our emotions get involved. We tend to associate negotiations with being fair or about compromise when it really depends on the specific situation and how well we can control the process in order to achieve the outcome we desire. It’s not really necessarily about winning”.
At its heart, successful negotiating is about giving to get; therefore, what matters is what each side gives up and what it gets in return. Negotiation is more art than science, as it involves other human beings, their egos and emotions in addition to more tangible gives and takes. The good news is that it is possible to acquire the skills needed to be an effective negotiator. Listed below are practical tips designed to improve one’s ability to negotiate and to also help move the other party along in the direction of a possible agreement. While some of the tips focus on the preparation, others are intended to guide one’s behaviour and actions during negotiations.
- Do not view a negotiation as a conflict- it is in fact a process to narrow down differences and converge on common ground. All negotiations need not be inherently “zero-sum” in nature (meaning that one side loses all while the other wins everything). View negotiations instead as a way to ensure that both sides get what they respectively value more in the given situation.
- Learn to separate person from the offer or counter-offer. We often view the offer made by the other side as inseparable from the person making the offer. This makes it easy to bring our biases, prejudices and personal dislikes into the negotiation process. In turn, this clouds our ability to assess the merits and demerits of the offer/counter-offer and respond meaningfully.
- The key to negotiating successfully is to plan well. Give enough thought to what your side values and is ready to give up. But also try and anticipate what the other side values so that you can identify possible trade-offs that could become concessions that the parties agree to.
- A seasoned negotiator is necessarily a consummate listener who picks up verbal and non-verbal cues to get a sense of what the other side values and what they might be willing to potentially give up. This information is critical to create new pathways and move forward, when what one has planned and practised is leading to deadlock. This is like a playmaker in a football game creating openings and pushing forward.
- Understand that the other side may have different expectations than you in terms of the targeted outcomes. For instance, one side may be looking at maximizing prices (the supplier), while the other (customer) may be concerned about timely supplies, material quality and overall reliability- in addition to reasonable prices. Ms. Acevedo is bang on target when she says in the podcast “…negotiating is about maximizing value and involves a lot of planning, research, questioning, listening for what’s being said but also to what’s not being said in order to have better control of the outcome”.
- Often, we are afraid of putting our proposal on the table first, and we wait for the other side to make their move. Do not be afraid to be the first to articulate your expectations and proposals clearly. You get the first-mover advantage because you force the other side to respond to what you have offered. At the very least, you will get more time to discuss it thoroughly. But make sure you have thought through it beforehand.
- During the negotiations, tempers may rise. Seasoned negotiators do not lose their cool; instead, they use the other side’s emotions to their own advantage. It is tennis season- so think of it as “unforced errors”.
- There are instances where an apparent impasse is reached during negotiations just because the parties are unable to differentiate between their “interests” and “positions”. This results in people sticking to positions and in the process, losing sight of their interests.
- Frame your proposals in ways that highlight what you believe the other side values. Your research will help you identify this in advance of the actual negotiations. This signals that you are thinking about the other side’s interests and helps making the other party more receptive. If possible, simulate negotiation sessions with your team members (some of them play the other party)- that can harness the creative diversity of the team and may give you new insights.
- Sometimes, agreeing to met again after a few days to continue discussions and negotiations is itself a significant win- for both sides. It allows you to consult with your colleagues and bosses and re-evaluate your trade-offs and outcome expectations based on the information you have gleaned during the earlier meeting.
- Be realistic about possible outcomes. There may be situations where what one side is asking for is simply not doable by the other due to reasons of law, policy, ethics/morality or even financial considerations. If you encounter non-negotiable trade-offs, be prepared to walk away. But remember that both sides are there to reach agreement- so chances are that the journey will continue after a break. Use every interaction to create a more robust picture of the other side’s preferred negotiation style, what they value, what trade-offs they are open to etc.
- The most important piece of advice I can offer is this: overcome your fear of negotiations; the more you operate from fear, the greater the risk that you will give up more than you would have liked to simply because your fear will cloud your judgement and trigger reactions such as anger and obstinacy- the arch enemies of successful negotiations.
To find out more on negotiation, check out our podcast with Minerva Acevedo here.
I hope you find the above tips useful as you negotiate in your professional and personal lives. Happy negotiating!