If you have ever interacted with another person, at some point you have probably done a bit of negotiation. Negotiation is a process by which people with a difference of opinions or objectives come to an agreement. In broad terms, it is one approach to conflict resolution. Negotiation involves brainstorming options and looking for trade-offs across issues. The goal is to create a satisfactory outcome to the conflict without the aid of professional assistance.
While this can be a formal business process, it can also be done informally in the early stages of a disagreement. Good negotiators know that the principles of fairness, seeking mutual benefit, and maintaining a relationship are key to a successful outcome.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker
Process of Negotiation
There is a process to negotiation; a set of steps that you can follow to work towards an agreement. Here is a brief explanation of those steps. Remember, that while these are the formal steps, we can use aspects of these steps in an informal way for resolving everyday disagreements.
This is much more than just setting a time and place. Preparation is about making sure you have all the information about the situation, knowing what options would satisfy your needs, and ensuring you have the power to make decisions related to those options. You need to know what your ideal outcome would be, and what other things might be acceptable if your ideal cannot be achieved. This will help you identify your bottom line and opportunities for success.
In addition, you need to think about any leverage you might have in the negotiation. The more you understand the situation from both your view and the expected view from the other party, the more you can work to build your argument in a way that will address any concerns others may have.
During the discussion phase, both parties get the chance to make their case as to how they view the situation and what they perceive needs to be done to resolve the issue. This is the time to ask clarifying questions. You need to fully understand both what the other party needs and why they need it. Sometimes, understanding the motivation behind a situation can alter how you approach getting to the desired outcome.
Clarification of Goals
Now that everyone had made their opening arguments, so to speak, it is time to make sure there is agreement on what specifically needs to be resolved. Frequently some common ground can be discovered, and those factors can be taken out of the situation. In addition, it is not unusual to find things that are only relevant and actionable by one party; those items can also be removed from the equation. All of this helps get down to the specific details that need to be addressed. This is a critical step in negotiation, and all too often one that is skipped over.
Negotiate Towards a Win-Win Outcome
While win-win is the ultimate goal, it is important to recognize that there may be many different solutions that could constitute a win. This is where knowing both your ideal outcome along with other acceptable options comes into play. If you go in with a “my way or the highway” approach, then you’re not really there to negotiate. When you agree to negotiate, you are agreeing to have some flexibility. You may be able to reach a complimentary solution where everyone gets everything they want, but most likely you will have to prioritize what is most important and let some of the lesser things go. You may get a big win, a little win, or something in-between.
It is essential to for everybody involved to keep an open mind in order to achieve an acceptable solution. Any agreement needs to be made perfectly clear so that both sides know what has been decided. The agreement should identify what the future actions will be, who is responsible for each of those actions, and by when each action will be implemented. Having an agreed plan is how the parties can hold each other responsible for fulling the agreement.
“Negotiation is not a policy, it’s a technique. It’s something you use when it’s to your advantage, and something you don’t use when it’s not to your advantage.” John Bolton
Skills for Negotiation
Like all leadership processes, it is not just knowing the steps, but having the skills to effectively implement those steps. Here is a summary of the skills leaders need to master to excel in negotiation.
Root Cause Analysis Skills
The objective of a root cause analysis is to determine the primary barrier (root cause) that is preventing you from transitioning from your current situation to your desired situation. For negotiation to be successful, you must be able to get at the heart of the issue and what specifically needs to be solved.
Active Listening Skills
You may not think about it much, but your ability to actively listen determines your response. The way that leaders respond teaches others how much autonomy they have and how much they can pass on to others. In negotiation, your responses to the other party will tell them if you have actually heard them and are willing to work with them towards a solution.
Empathetic leaders tend to have teams that are more engaged, more loyal, more creative, and generally happier. Knowing how to use empathy in negotiation demonstrates that you can see the perspective of the other party. This helps others engage more positively in the negotiation process.
Clear Communication Skills
The purpose of communication is to convey meaning from one person to another. This can only be done in a circular process. Too many of us get trapped on a one-way street. It is easy to deliver a message. It is harder to have a conversation and receive feedback about our message. Frustration in communication usually comes because we only think about ourselves – what our message is, how we want to say it, and how we want to deliver it. When we add in thinking about others and their needs in the communication process, that is when we can turn the corner from frustration to negotiation.
Collaboration is when two or more people, with different expertise, perspectives, and ideas, work together towards a common goal to solve a common problem. It is what makes team performance successful. Negotiation is like a team performance as it brings together different views to work towards a joint solution.
Creative Problem Solving Skills
Creative problem solving is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way. It’s a process that helps you redefine the problems and opportunities you face, come up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then take action. Negotiation frequently needs creative problem solving to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
“Never allow a person to tell you no, who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Decision Making Skills
Life is easier when you only focus on one thing or only one way of doing something. But if you fail to consider other options, you might be missing out on exciting new opportunities. It is easy to forget that there can be many ways to doing things, and you need to be willing to open yourself to exploring the options. Negotiators need to be skilled at making decisions that involved new approaches and outcomes.
Relationship Building Skills
How we communicate and interact with others forms our relationships. Relationships are all about the way in which we talk, behave, and otherwise interact with each other. One secret to being a great negotiator is the ability to build strong, positive relationships with others.
Whether we are trustworthy and dependable, whether we are consistent and fair in our decision process, and whether our actions meet expectations, all combine into the nebulous term – integrity. Integrity is all about doing the right thing, both in and out of the spotlight. People want to negotiate with those who they see as having integrity.
Putting It All Together
Negotiation is a process that involves a lot of different skills. To excel at negotiation, you must understand all the steps and have the various skills needed to implement them. Many leadership training’s focus only on the process and leave leaders at a loss when they are not able to successfully execute the steps. Learning the process is the easy part; developing the skill sets needed for implementation is the hard part. Great leaders will work on improving the interpersonal skills used in the negotiation process, and then simply use the steps in the process as a checklist. It is not the aptitude in the process that makes a good negotiator, it is the skills behind the process. Focus on those and success will be within your grasp.