You are probably negotiating a lot, but it’s so natural to you that you don’t even realize it. If two people approach a door at the same time, who goes first? Who grasps the handle? Does one person signal the other to go ahead of them?
In this lesson, you’ll briefly look at how to master negotiation skills. You’ll also have an opportunity to practice and to work on your technique.
Mastering Negotiation Skills
Negotiation means coming to agreement on certain terms. In North America, it is not common to negotiate on everyday purchases, such as groceries or clothing. We do, however, negotiate when it comes to buying large ticket items, such as cars and homes. In some cultures, it is accepted and encouraged to negotiate or barter on nearly all purchases.
Bartering does not always include the same process as negotiation. As well, in some places, the customer offers a low price (on a house, for example) and then the price is driven upward through negotiating. It is important to know the subtleties of the markets that you are operating within.
Three very effective ways to learn how to negotiate include taking courses, learning methodology that reflects accepted best practices, and mentoring.
Negotiating used to be about win/lose and whoever got what they wanted was the winner. This is no longer the case. We understand that negotiating is about finding the best solution that continues or strengthens a relationship. Although there are still plenty of people who continue to play the win/lose game (the essence of Greek tragedy), today’s effective negotiator recognizes that the tragic flaws of Greek heroes, like pride and arrogance, have no place in the interpersonal relationships of today.
Key Skills for Success
You may not think that you have ever negotiated anything, but that’s probably not the case. Have you ever bargained with a colleague over putting on a pot of coffee or replacing the water bottle for the cooler? Have you ever had lunch with a friend and had that brief, awkward struggle over who would pay the bill? No matter what the outcome, you were negotiating. Here are several key skills that you can work on to make yourself an effective negotiator.
Allowing for Creative Flexibility
Negotiating is less about confrontation and aggression than it is about flexibility and innovative thinking. If a situation calls for negotiation, it also calls for an approach that leads to optimal solutions. Note that we are going to refer to the person that you are in a negotiation with as a “partner” or “counterpart.” These words evoke a sense of teamwork and cooperation, which is essential in successful negotiation. If we refer to the other party as a “disputant” or “opponent,” we are setting up a negative term of reference for the process. Our goal is to establish strong and effective relationships from which to negotiate. In a poor negotiating climate, when our partner offers something that is cooperative, we might actually fail to recognize it if we have set up an expectation to work against one another rather than together.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of preparation prior to a planned negotiation. An effective negotiator always comes to the table very well prepared and is often willing to balance that preparation with flexibility. Weak negotiators can be overly confident and under prepared, and may lose opportunities that might have been noticed by someone with more skill. An effective negotiator is prepared for the unexpected and is creative enough to see potential problems for the opportunities that they hold.
The Rule of Value
Creating and claiming value are at the heart of the negotiating process. Creating value means that we can develop effective and creative solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved in the negotiation. In negotiation terms, this is commonly known as “expanding the pie.” Claiming value refers to the size of the piece of the pie we receive as a result of negotiation.
Many negotiators can do a good job at either creating or claiming value, but not both. Master negotiators do an excellent job of striking this balance by having a good understanding of both party’s interests and by identifying common ground, rather than simply aiming for a target and not allowing for any flexibility.
Understanding Negotiating Styles
A good negotiator understands their own style as well as other people’s styles. They understand their own limitations, and how their style can work for and even against them. They also understand how to flex their own style and exhibit high levels of self-control so that they maintain composure and control through the negotiation process.
If we approach negotiating as a collaborative effort, we are more able to notice and acknowledge our partner’s use of language and body language, and we can recognize things that they value through the words they use in conversation or in written drafts of an agreement. In return, we can adapt our language to reflect their values and appeal to their understanding. We can modify our approach to reflect their interests and values; as a result, we can increase the chances that they will take us seriously. We are not as capable of noticing subtleties if we are in a negative or confrontational environment.
Cooperative negotiators look for a win-win situation where both parties know that they were able to get the best result possible. Competitive negotiators, on the other hand, aim to win in the negotiation. Their objective is to get as much value as possible for their objectives, whether their counterpart gets any satisfaction or not.
In combined approaches, one negotiator may be cooperative and the other competitive. When both are cooperative, they will find a solution if there is one available. If both negotiators are competitive, they may both dig their heels in and refuse to offer any concessions to the other side.
Effectiveness is an important element of style. For example, an effective, competitive negotiator may bully an ineffective, cooperative negotiator. This could occur when an idealistic or naïve individual is trying to negotiate with someone who is headstrong or impatient.
Someone who is competitive but not very effective would be inclined to intimidate or bluff their way through a negotiation because they are not well prepared. Instead of drawing on knowledge as the negotiation gets underway, they increase their level of aggression and even lose their composure. This can lead to a breakdown in negotiation.