Many people shy away from asking for what they want and end up settling for an unsatisfactory outcome. Why is this? Good negotiators don’t have to choose between waging a strictly competitive, win-lose battle or caving in to avoid conflict. You can get a positive result by reframing how you approach the debate while improving your method for structuring a way forward. It helps to remember that negotiation is an art as well as a skill.
“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life … it is a back-and-forth communication to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed.”
Roger Fry & William Ury, authors of the best selling book ‘Getting to Yes’
This article suggests five crucial principles and offers seven bonus tips for becoming a successful negotiator while maintaining good relationships with others.
1. Work to achieve a win-win for both parties
Healthy, productive relationships can only work on a collaborative basis. In buying and selling terms, success equates to the sellers feeling they are receiving appropriate fees for their service, while the buyers think they are receiving value. Known as a win-win approach as it requires cooperation to achieve maximum benefits for both parties. Exploring each side’s perceptions openly and avoiding the tendency to blame are essential negotiation skills.
2. Establish your BATNA—the best alternative to a negotiated agreement
The BATNA you select will determine what action you will take if the current negotiation results in an impasse. Effective negotiators determine their BATNAs before talks begin. When you fail to do so, you might make a costly mistake by rejecting a deal you should have accepted or accepting the one you’d have been wise to decline. It is essential to have high aspirations for a good outcome in negotiation and work hard to achieve this. However, it is just as critical to establishing a walkaway point that is well thought out and firmly grounded.
3. Apply the concept of ‘give and take’
Negotiation often involves conceding by moving from your original position. Fundamental to collaborative negotiation is the concept of trading concessions. Many people make the mistake of offering concessions without asking for anything in return. It would help if you reminded yourself of this give-and-take principle: a concession that involves a cost to you that needs to be balanced by something received with value. Reciprocity is at the heart of what human beings do to get along, so this works well.
4. Work on all the variables
Avoid one issue becoming the focal point for discussion, for example, cost. Working on all the variables means taking a broader view when considering how to get to an agreement. An open atmosphere will lead to a positive discussion. Ask neutral questions and fully listen to the response. Build rapport by exploring possibilities and generating ideas as this will assist in building cooperation.
Don’t become overly attached to an issue or viewpoint as it will become an obstacle to progress. If you feel this is happening, pause to consider the consequences of the sticking point. Be objective. On a scale of 1-10, where one is unimportant and ten is vital, where does the sticking point feature and why? How you answer will help you decide the best course of action.
5. Check your understanding
Negotiators can sometimes fall into the trap of making assumptions that bear little relation to what is happening. Always test your hypotheses. Common beliefs in business negotiations to avoid are:
The same people involved last time will be there this time.
They are bound to haggle on price.
All the key people have read the proposal.
There is nothing for you to offer as a trade.
Remember to go over what you understand, what is agreed upon, and any issues that remain outstanding. Summarising is a positive behaviour during all stages of any negotiation; the longer and more complex the topic, the greater the need to summarise.
Here are seven bonus tips to ease any tensions and reduce the risk of negotiations breaking down. You’ll also increase your chances of reaching a satisfying result.
- Always treat the other person with respect.
- Be objective and separate the person from the problem.
- Understand their point of view.
- Listen first, talk second.
- Pause and breathe into the moment if things get heated.
- Establish then stick to the facts.
- Be flexible and explore alternative options together.
Good negotiation involves looking for ways to help each side get more of what they want. By listening closely, treating each other fairly, and jointly exploring options to increase value, negotiators can find ways of getting to yes that reduce the need to rely on hard-bargaining tactics and unnecessary concessions.
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Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In – Fisher, Ury, and Patton (2011)
Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion – Goldstein, Martin, Cialdini (2007)
Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, Harvard Law School (2018)