In this fifth blog from the Business Excellence series, we explore negotiation; a critical skill that helps us to settle differences through agreement or compromise. 

Good negotiation eliminates argument and discomfort, and at work we do it all the time. In learning and development for example, we regularly negotiate terms, timelines and costs but we must consider our entire content strategy. 

What do you need? Why do you need it? Who needs it? What will it do? How will it look? How will it report? How will it measure success? Many points will be clear at the outset, but others (particularly creative aspects) require skilful negotiation. 

The ideal scenario sees all parties make concessions, for the benefit of the wider goal. In terms of business negotiation, John Paul Getty stated: 

“You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money, you won’t have many deals.” 

Key skills 

Good negotiation requires a particular skill that’s essential for many key factors, including communication, influencing and stakeholder management. This is emotional intelligence, or the ability to manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence starts with emotional awareness so be vigilant and receptive to emotion in others. 

Situational analysis is another crucial negotiation skill, particularly when seeking out a compromise. Remember that negotiations are not always dramatic, and they don’t always relate to business outcomes. It could mean clarifying who will chair a meeting and it could mean finalising a valuable long-term contract. 

Being informed is recommended in almost every business scenario but it’s particularly crucial in negotiation. You must arm yourself with data and intelligence that supports your objectives. Do your homework and clarify the facts up front. 

Map your approach 

It’s important that you know the aim of any negotiation, as well as the boundaries. For example, what is the least you are willing to accept? Don’t undersell your requirements, just know your limits. Have a backup plan for scenarios where you just cannot reach an agreement. Make sure that all angles are covered. 

Strategy is vital in achieving this. Clarifying aims beforehand helps you to prepare. This ensures that you can negotiate with purpose instead of reacting instinctively to the responses of others, leading you to feel out of your depth. 

See all perspectives 

As with stakeholder management, trust is an important factor in negotiation. We create trust when we’re receptive to the situation from every viewpoint. That’s how we build positive relationships. As with influencing, we must listen actively, clearly demonstrating a genuine interest in all parties. 

What do they need? What pressures are they under? What are their options? As we clarified earlier, the more you know ahead of time the stronger your negotiating position. 

Focus on conflicts 

For all the value that planning brings, negotiations are not always predictable. This is because you can never know for sure what new information will be introduced during the conversation. You might even need to re-think your approach or strategy on the spot. 

That’s why it’s useful to focus squarely on the issues at hand. Manage conflicts. Identify specific areas where interests and opinions differ, then look to resolve each, mutually. These could be around costs, dates, formats, logistics, technology, reporting and just about anything else related to a creative project. 

Former FBI hostage negotiator turned CEO Christoper Voss advises that: 

“Successful negotiation is not about getting to ‘yes’; it’s about mastering ‘no’ and understanding what the path to an agreement is.” 

Be assertive 

You should be assertive but respectful during negotiations. Make sure that others know what you need and, importantly, be confident in justifying why you need it. Self-belief is paramount. The fact that you’re right won’t always help the outcome, but getting others to think you’re right will make a big difference. This is consolidated by negotiation author Herb Cohen’s theory: 

“Power is based on perception. If you think you got it, you got it, even if you don’t got it”. 

Being assertive doesn’t mean refusing to budge, which can be unproductive. You can apply a reasonable degree of pressure, though, as long as it’s done with care and respect. When asserting views, you should avoid relating issues directly to others, for example “I’d like a better understanding of the benefits…” sounds more reasonable then “Your approach seems to lack value…”. We’ll explore assertiveness in more detail in the next release. 

Ultimately, if you sell it just right, others will feel that they are coming out on top. Sir David Frost nailed it when he pointed out that “diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” 

 Celebrate silence 

Embrace silence in negotiations. Never view a conversation break as negative and never feel urged to fill dead air. Instead, make it part of your strategy. It allows others time to reflect, review, and consolidate what has been said. 

Managing and using silence is a skill that many people find challenging. This is why so many jump in to fill silence after the briefest pause. 

As best-selling author and negotiation guru, Alexandra Carter suggested, silence can be proportionate to the quality of the question asked. So be confident in your objective and strive to remain comfortable when conversation ceases. 

Well-placed pauses help to dispel anxiety whilst empowering both parties to think, leading to better decision making. This sets a strong foundation for success. 

Be objective 

Finally, never take it personally. It’s unlikely that the focus of a negotiation will be you as an individual, so don’t allow yourself to be drawn into the narrative. It won’t help you. 

Howard Baker clarifies this point by suggesting a difficult element in negotiation is to “…strip it of the emotion and deal with the facts”.  

Brian Koslow cements this further: “During a negotiation, it would be wise not to take anything personally. If you leave personalities out of it, you will be able to see opportunities more objectively.” 

In conclusion

Be prepared, know your limits, and listen. It’s all about give and take. Focus on the issues and find common ground. Stay calm, be respectful, and remember, silence is your friend – use it to your advantage. Follow these tips and transform your negotiation outcomes. 

The next blog in our Business Excellence Series looks at Assertiveness. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates on new content and to learn more about RTS Group, our clients and behind the scenes of our busy digital L&D agency.   

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