We can all be excellent negotiators

When did you last negotiate? It is widely reported that around 45% of the working population has never negotiated a pay rise and this figure drops much lower when it comes to the female population. Anecdotally, many people describe themselves as poor negotiators and say that they are not confident when it comes to negotiating. 

We often see negotiation as a big event – something done by politicians, diplomats, top lawyers and the like whereas in reality we have all been negotiating all our lives with varying measures of success.  This view of negotiation as a big deal or a political set piece together with the idea that negotiating is an adversarial, combative process where one side tries to get the better of the other means many people see negotiation as something more difficult and challenging than it needs to be. 

When we understand that successful negotiation should be much more about compromise and discovering a workable outcome, we can start to make it work for us. This doesn’t mean it’s easy but learning how to achieve the mindset and skills to be a successful negotiator is a relatively simple process.

Preparation is key

Most people don’t spend nearly enough time preparing for their negotiations and the time that they do spend is focused on preparing their own case and clarifying what they need: their objectives and bottom line.  It is just as important to spend preparation time finding out more about the other side: putting ourselves in their shoes, understanding their context and thinking about what will be most important for them. 

  • If we are negotiating with people we already know, we should think about them as individuals: what makes them tick, what are their core values and what approaches are likely to turn them on or off to our case?   
  • When negotiating externally, for example with new suppliers or potential clients, we should research the organisational culture, values and history 
  • If our negotiation takes us across borders, we need to understand the local expectations, norms and cross-cultural differences in negotiations styles

Whatever the context, thinking about what will work best for the other side in terms of environment, timing, structure, supporting documents and approach will help you to win them over.

Communication is a two-way process

If we see negotiation as a discussion rather than a competition it becomes less threatening and we are more able to reach a positive outcome for both parties.

Listen and observe – Tune into what the other person is saying – or more importantly not saying – and this can help you to adapt your approach and modify your proposition.  This doesn’t mean conceding on your bottom line but tuning into the other side will help you to know which benefits to highlight, examples to give and how much detail to share.  And by observing carefully you can mirror their language use and communication style.

Ask questions -  Not all questions are good questions.  Intrusive, vague or unnecessary questions are not helpful but open questions that will encourage the other side to open up and give you the information you need can help you to avoid deadlock. 

Clarify– Avoid making assumptions and make sure you feedback what you have understood.

Time is on your side

A successful negotiation requires time: both in terms of preparation and the conversation itself.  One of the most common reasons that negotiations fail is when one side pushes too fast to agree the deal without taking the time to uncover the other side’s position.  

So next time you want to ask for a pay rise or negotiate a discount with a supplier, remember that if you take the time to prepare and keep the communication open you have every chance of a successful outcome. It is a myth that negotiating is all about big ticket deals and only done by trained mediators and high-level politicians. 

We should all negotiate all the time.



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