In business, as in life, your skills as a negotiator will occasionally be tested. By concentrating on five fundamentals in particular—preparation, factual agreement, rapport, active listening, and common interests—you can greatly improve your prospects for success.
A negotiation strategy can’t succeed in advance, but it can fail in advance.
There is arguably no more important component of a negotiation strategy than preparation.
Start by envisioning the negotiated outcome to which you aspire, and understand why it is desirable for you. Identify your must-haves. This will enable you to distinguish areas where you are willing to compromise, from areas where you are determined to stand firm.
Your preparations for a negotiation should include research into the other party and h/er interests. Try to identify the outcome the other party desires, and issues on which you think s/he may be willing to compromise.
Finally, it is important that you clarify the terms and process of a negotiation at the outset. Who will be present at the meetings? How long are the negotiations anticipated to last? What does the other party’s chain of command look like, and who will sign off on the final decision? Are there key dates upcoming, deadlines, or other technical details that need to be established?
Make sure the other party is willing to agree, in writing, to the terms of the negotiated outcome. You want to avoid a situation where the other party unilaterally re-opens negotiations that you thought had concluded.
Establish consensus on key facts.
Negotiations tend to be deliberate and can be mentally taxing, so it’s helpful to reach agreement on the facts, and thereby avoid unnecessary discord and delays.
Over the course of the negotiations, information may come to light that is new to you. Should this occur, make a note of it and try to verify it. Call for a pause in the negotiations if necessary. Don’t accept a consequential “fact” that you don’t know is true, or an interpretation of reality you can’t endorse.
Just as importantly, both parties to a negotiation must have realistic expectations—including an understanding of the conditions that each party faces.
If, for example, a manufacturing subcontractor cannot fill an order because h/er factory has sustained significant damage in an earthquake, a well-informed manager of the retail firm that placed the order won’t attribute the shortfall to the subcontractor’s incompetence or negligence. A shared understanding of facts on the ground, including risks and potential causes of delay, is often essential to maintaining positive professional relationships.
This involves getting to know one another personally, ensuring that all parties are on the same page, and managing or de-escalating conflicts. Rapport has verbal and non-verbal components; body language plays a central role.
Progress in negotiations tends to be especially difficult when there is hostility between the parties. Small talk can help to break the ice, but in some cases, this approach simply won’t be adequate. Some basic conflict management techniques can help you move forward in negotiations, even if you aren’t particularly fond of your counterpart.
• Avoid making provocative statements that may cause your counterpart to shut down or become defensive.
• If your counterpart makes such a provocative statement, express your lack of appreciation therefor, but suppress the temptation to retaliate in kind.
• Maintain non-threatening physical posture and body language. Speak calmly and slowly, and de-personalize the source of conflict—for example, “This situation makes me uncomfortable.” rather than “You are making me uncomfortable.”
• If necessary, take a break, and return to the topic of contention once you and your counterpart have both had an opportunity to regain composure.
Active, attentive listening enables you to ascertain your counterpart’s wants, needs, goals, and any other relevant information s/he may have to offer. It also allows you to hold h/er accountable for any changes in h/er position that you haven’t acknowledged or agreed to. Your priority in negotiations should not be to catch your counterpart off-guard, to exert control, or even to “win”. Rather, your main aim should be to safeguard your own interests with an approach that emphasizes listening, critical thinking, and strategic dialogue.
Seek out common interests.
Ultimately, the goal of all parties to a negotiation is the same: to obtain something they desire, while sacrificing as little as possible. Because desirability is partly subjective, successful negotiations among equal partners can often result in a “win-win”.
A sure way to achieve real, substantive progress in a negotiation is by focusing on shared interests and ambitions. Once you know where your common interests lie, you will find it easier to iron out the details of any compromises that may be necessary.