Negotiate like a professional

Negotiation skills

Dealing with other people is a normal part of everyday life, but getting the outcomes we want, whether in the work environment or when handling personal matters, can be far from easy.

Therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of the different dynamics that come into play when communicating with colleagues, clients, friends and acquaintances. In business especially, that means knowing how to present a clear argument and read changing circumstances so as to achieve objectives and avoid unwanted strife.

For all of us, many types of interaction occur with people at different levels. One of the most challenging is reaching a common goal when the other party won’t accept our approach or ideas. That is where professional negotiation skills can come in really handy.

There are all kinds of potential pitfalls. Perhaps the most common is not making the effort to really understand the other person’s point of view. Another is not having a clear appreciation of what value you can offer and what the other side will want. A third is to focus on the end result only, overlooking the intermediate steps. And a fourth is either to give information too freely or to hold back too much.

In every case, it pays to remember that negotiation is a process which starts with different viewpoints and where compromise is a must. To be successful, keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Be clear about objectives

Many business people jump into negotiations without adequate preparation. When discussing, say, a sales contract, an advertising campaign or migration to the cloud, they do insufficient research and know less than they think. They don’t check all the alternatives or the best longer-term options. My advice is that not to walk into any negotiation without being sure what you want and why.

2. Set a bottom line

This is called your “walk away” position. Decide in advance at which point you may have to throw in your hand and leave table. Some discussions hit a brick wall and you can’t “win” anything. It is best to accept that. In personal negotiations, people tend to shift their positions because of underlying emotions. In a professional context, that is not so acceptable. But if you do have to walk away, you can still maintain friendly relations.

3. Understand “principled negotiation”

The basic point is to separate the people and emotions from problem itself. This allows you to take an objective standpoint and avoid personal conflict. Learn to differentiate clearly between common interests and positions that each party favours. Also, anticipate and plan for options you might consider. It is a good idea to practice these tactics in quieter moments until they become a natural part of your negotiating style.

4. Employ a range of methods

There are four commonly used methods, which most of us regularly employ or can easily recognize. In short, they are making a concession or giving in; splitting the difference or meeting somewhere in the middle; making a trade-off with some give and take; and adding an enhancement which has more value for the other party than for you. This is sometimes called an IVT or inexpensive valuable tradable.

5. Recognise “hardball” tactics

In some negotiations, if things aren’t going well, you need to show a tougher side. This doesn’t always work, but it can help to break a deadlock and push things along. The possible tactics include “good cop, bad cop” where two people on the same side take turns to speak – one quite aggressive the other more conciliatory. There is the “bogey” – making a small issue seem more important that it really is in order to win concessions elsewhere.

The “take it or leave it” stance can work if things seem to be dragging on too long. And there is “deadline pressure”, invoked by mentioning a time or date by which a decision must be reached.

The main thing though, is to assess each situation carefully and adapt quickly. That is the key to being effective.


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