Negotiation is as critical a business skill today as it has ever been. And it’s something that none of us can avoid. Whether it’s determining the terms of a new deal, overcoming conflict with colleagues or partners, or settling a dispute, negotiating is part of the day-to-day dynamic of our professional lives.
In negotiations, every party has distinct interests and perspectives, and every party wants to perform well and walk away from the negotiation table with as many resources as possible. Things can get even more complicated when you are negotiating with colleagues or business partners who are particularly competitive or who routinely negotiate in a non-integrative (or less win-win) context.
So how do you navigate negotiation to ensure that you reach the best agreements, concessions and outcomes for you and your business?
Here are six things that top negotiators know and proactively do to achieve better outcomes.
1. Familiarise yourself with the counterparty and build rapport
Before actual negotiations begin, you can make effort to get parties working together by finding out more about your counter-party. Seek out your social networks or use social media to begin to better understand your counter party. Perhaps you can discover their general negotiation style and behaviour, what motivates them, and what their interests are. You might find out from others in your networks the dynamic and outcomes of your counter-party’s previous negotiations, how they interact and what gets them engaged and wanting to work with others. Simply picking up the phone or meeting the individual (virtually or in person) could help to initiate trust building n the relationship. Even if trust only extends to establishing ground rules and processes, at least you will be moving towards an environment where both parties feel a greater degree of comfort.
2. Get into their shoes (and walk around in them a bit)
Similarly, getting a good sense of what the other person’s interests and desires are and trying to understand their perspective – even if you don’t agree with them – will help you to be more cognitively present and hopefully facilitate a more rational, understanding discussion. Being invested in finding out more and really understanding the other party can signal to that counter-party that you are at least listening to them, which in turn might lead to you being heard and better understood also. When both parties in a negotiation are able to see and share perspective, they’re more likely to feel equally invested. The right information can be shared and the right questions asked to facilitate creating joint value. Understanding where people are coming from and listening effectively can aid you in finding potential trade-offs or thinking of issues to bring to the table, so that you might move the negotiation and counter-party forward to a integrative solution.
3. Share information
Constructive negotiation is all about reciprocity. Taking the initiative to share first (and being willing to make yourself vulnerable) can get this exchange going and also help anchor the conversation in your favour. Perhaps your willingness to share will help nudge more difficult negotiating partners into following your lead and opening up the dialogue from their side. When people at the table see that all sides are willing to work together and build a collaborative rhythm or flow, it can sustain positive exchange and foster parties sharing the right information to create value.
4. Prioritise creativity
In any negotiation, you’re likely to encounter unexpected issues or elements as you delve deeper in your discussions. This is where you are going to need to get creative about everyone’s interests and really look outside the box for options and solutions that meet everyone’s needs. An important part of your creativity is preparing for the negotiation and understanding your counter-parties in advance. Mapping out your perception of everyone’s interests prior to negotiating can help you to initially think of creative solutions from various perspectives. Take a fresh look at what makes the other party tick and then try to bring this to the table in someway. Think about the issues on the table and brainstorm whether the issues have potential to be multi-faceted. If there are several facets to the issues, unbundle them – this gives you more issues on the table to discuss and more options to get to a creative and value-generating solution. Use creativity to engage them in a more integrative and mutually beneficial exchange. Be willing to adjust your assumptions and creativity as you ask the right questions and learn more from the new information you retrieve from your counter-party. Establishing an environment where parties are working together and co-creating can be fruitful in terms of generating multiple ideas for potential solutions, and leading to an eventual buy-in and agreement.
5. Be collective
Frame your conversation as collective instead of individual so that it fosters a we working together dynamic, instead of a me focus. Using positive affect or niceties can facilitate more prosocial or helpful behaviours and actions. If you have examples of integrative or win-win outcomes from previous negotiations, why not share these experiences and this expertise? But be careful. Coming across as having expertise can help you be perceived as powerful, but coming over as patronising will not.
6. Minimise threat
If threats are used by the individuals who don’t want to create value, find ways to block or prevent these threats from occurring. Creating positive affect at the table can help to de-escalate the tension. Find an issue that you both care about and agree to it, so that you can move the negotiation forward positively. Recognising the implicit players at the table might also help your case. You may be able to get all players to switch their tactics by involving these implicit players and garnering their influence. Ultimately, your opponents’ BATNAs (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) give them power. If you can discover what this is and figure out how to move their BATNA in your favour, maybe you can get these difficult party or parties on board and working with everyone else at the table.