People often think of negotiating as something they rarely do. In reality, you negotiate many times a day. Whether it’s a discussion with your partner as to who’s collecting the children from school, or a discussion with a colleague about the best way to resolve a work problem.
The difference is the size of what’s at stake. In smaller, everyday negotiations the outcome may have less consequence, but in larger, more protracted negotiations the outcome may be critical. Being able to influence the outcome of a negotiation is an important career and life skill.
If you can’t negotiate you’ll find it harder than necessary to get things done, or worse, you’ll agree to do things you don’t want to do. Here are five core practices you need to succeed:
Negotiating is mentally taxing. Your mind will be pushed and pulled in many directions. It’s important to understand the mindset you are adopting, and how you are likely to think, feel and react throughout the process. If you go in with the perspective – “I’m right. They’re wrong”, and are not willing to compromise or find common ground, you’re unlikely to make good progress. It is much more productive to approach the negotiation from a basis of mutual respect and a willingness to consider different ideas and options.
Know what you want from the negotiation, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. It can be a case of “don’t ask – don’t get”. So be deliberate about your needs and when you ask. Timing can be crucial, as a negotiation’s starting position can anchor the remainder of the conversation. This involves understanding the subject matter in detail and potential options. Know how your proposal could satisfy the other person’s needs, and where your boundaries and priorities lie. Additionally, be clear on your non-negotiables and what you are willing to give up.
Think about how the negotiation process will unfold, and the steps required to secure agreement. Consider each of these steps, in advance of the discussion, and be curious as to how they may play out. Running through possible scenarios and outcomes will enable you to better respond as issues or objections are raised during the discussion. Importantly, seek to understand the other people involved – their operating style, agenda, needs and what they care about. Be interested in them and their perspectives and ideas. The more you understand those involved, the greater insights you’ll have into what they are likely to support or reject.
Negotiating effectively is much easier if you have a good relationship with the other people involved. So build your network early and always take the long term view. You want both parties to the negotiation to walk away from the process with their dignity intact and feeling as though they have done well. If someone feels ill-treated through a negotiation, even if an agreement has been reached, there will be longer term ramifications.
Negotiations often take unexpected turns, and it’s very easy for the situation to escalate. You want to be able to respond mindfully, rather than reactively. So, don’t negotiate when you are tired, and if you find your mind racing focus on breathing, and breathing deeply. This provides time for your nerves to relax and your heart rate to slow down, making it easier to reflect and respond calmly.
Applying these five practices will help you maintain your focus and ability to see negotiations through to a good conclusion.
Michelle Gibbings, workplace expert and author of “Step Up: How to build your influence at work”