How You Can Strengthen Your Negotiation Skills

How You Can Strengthen Your Negotiation Skills

Negotiation skills aren’t just for business deals. Buying a car and purchasing a home are situations that call for negotiation. But there are many times when negotiation skills are used – from negotiating use of your time to negotiating your responsibilities. It can be a formal process like negotiating a pay raise or an informal one like reaching a mutual agreement for a group project.

Any time you need to reach an agreement or compromise with someone you are negotiating. For some, the thought of entering into a negotiation may cause anxiety and they will avoid it, believing that it may be adversarial and result in uncomfortable confrontations. But negotiating is process that relies upon effective communication, which means it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with practice. The secret to successful negotiations is to prepare ahead of time and have the following strategies ready to use.
Preparing for Negotiations

Before you begin, determine what you want, need, or expect to receive once the negotiations have concluded. Experienced negotiators will tell you that it is important to learn about the goals of each person who will participate in the process. Negotiations usually involve exploring options, positions, and needs, with an end result of reaching a compromise that everyone can accept. And it may seem that everyone has a fixed position to begin with; however, like you, there is probably room for flexibility. In other words, there may be different ways to reach your goal or desired outcome.  

Once you have determined your goal, you can then develop a plan. What are you willing to accept, not accept, compromise on, and are there other alternatives you would consider? You should also determine, or at least have a general idea of, your walkaway point. This is your bottom line, which is the final point in the negotiations when you are no longer willing to compromise. You may also want to consider any deadlines or a possible timeline to work within. And the most important aspect of your plan is to do your homework. Adam Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, has determined through his research that “the person who has more information in a negotiation has more power.” Having power does not mean you will control the other person but it will help you reach your goals.
The last step for preparations should be an assessment of your negotiation skills. Consider the last time you had to negotiate something and then assess your strengthens and weaknesses. You can also take this quiz by authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Are you a good negotiator? To gain confidence in the process you could practice with another classmate or even a family member. What you will likely discover is that you already have a basic knowledge of the process from your everyday experiences.

Negotiation Strategies

As you begin to negotiate, there are strategies you can have available to use; some that are applicable for all situations and others that are required for more complex discussions.

1. Develop an Agenda

Before you start negotiations, try to establish some ground rules. For informal conversations you may only need to agree upon the purpose of your discussion. With formal negotiations you may need to have more specific guidelines in place, such as rules concerning communication and professionalism. This helps to establish the tone of the conversation and allows you to learn more about the goals and expectations of each person involved.

2. Always Listen

In Secrets of a Master Negotiator, listening is noted as one of the basic skills needed for all negotiations. This is one of the habits provided in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Listening means that you pay attention and try to understand the other person’s perspective. Most people “listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.” Listening is the number one skill for effective communication because “the better we listen, the more others appreciate us and, in return, the more they listen to us.” This applies to negotiations as you have to be able to communicate your needs and listen to understand what the other person expects to receive.

3. Work on Building Trust

Regardless of how simple or complex the discussion may be; trust can have a direct impact on your negotiations. If you begin from a place of distrust, whether it is based upon prior experience or something you presently perceive, it will be difficult to overcome and influence your interactions. It may be helpful to view negotiations as a type of relationship, whether it is short-term or long-term in nature. Even if you never expect to see this person again, you need to demonstrate respect and act in an ethical manner to gain their trust, especially if you want this to result in a mutually beneficial conclusion.

4. Try to Remain Flexible

Keep in mind that the essence of negotiations is a process of give and take. If you remain fixed on a particular position, you have created a demand rather than a negotiable point. Another time when flexibility is needed occurs when conditions change or you receive new information from the other party. You have to learn to be able to think on your feet. Consider how an improv comedy performer responds to conditions, through “a process of trial, error, and adjustment.” If the audience isn’t responding, the performer alters course and utilizes a new approach. You need that same type of responsiveness during negotiations.  

Maintaining flexibility is also important as negotiations progress, especially when you need to make concessions. Deepak Malhotra, a professor specializing in negotiation classes at Harvard Business School, has found through research that “negotiators reciprocate concessions based on the benefits they receive, while tending to ignore how much others are sacrificing.” With that in mind, it becomes important to make your demands known and support them with information, facts, and research. You want to appear to be reasonable, well-informed, and knowledgeable so that the other party will consider your point of view and work with you.   

5. Address and Manage Conflict

This is often one of the most challenging aspects of negotiations – knowing how to address a breakdown or impasse. If not handled tactfully, it may result in a conflict that derails the possibility of a resolution. When you reach a sticking point or impasse, first make an attempt to state the aspects you are in agreement with. Next, consider what other options and alternatives are available. If there are no further concessions to be made, do you need to gather additional information? If all else fails, perhaps you need to schedule a break. A conflict will occur when each party has stated their final position and neither is willing to make further adjustments. There are five ways to respond to conflict and include “compromise, compete, avoid, accommodate and collaborate.” If you’ve tried all of those methods and reached your walk-away point, then it is probably time to discontinue the discussion.

The process of negotiating can feel intimidating and stressful, depending upon the importance of the outcome, especially if you are not prepared or do not feel confident in your negotiation skills. The quickest method to become a better negotiator is to arm yourself with information and be familiar with the most common strategies that gain effective results. If you approach negotiations as a collaborative effort it will likely result in a satisfying outcome for all parties involved.     

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

Photo © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

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