When we enter into a negotiation
everything is negotiable and attitude is critical. Novice negotiators do
not understand that everything is negotiable all of the time. They give
up too easily. When the other party slams down their briefcase and walks
out of a negotiation session, they do not understand that this is a
tactic but instead they interpret it as the end of the negotiation. This
is a common practice among skilled negotiators and many lawsuits wind up
in court because lawyers do not understand that "positions" are always
negotiable. Many attributes go into making a skillful negotiator,
including such things as having a good memory, being 'quick verbally',
and handling stress well. But effectiveness is as much a matter of
attitude as it is of ability. The best negotiators exhibit four key
habits of thought that everyone, regardless of their style or IQ, can
adopt to improve their negotiation results:
A willingness to prepare
The patience to listen
A commitment to personal integrity
I cannot recall conducting a mediation or
being involved in a dispute that could not have been compromised.
Skilled negotiators are always on the look-out for an acceptable
compromise, especially as the gap between the parties narrows. Always
assume that you will end up in the middle, between the two opening
negotiation positions. In both the little and the big things, the
majority of the time we end up splitting the difference.
"Fair" is a range. Many negotiations
break down because one person has a number in mind (his "bottom line"),
and the other person has a number in mind, and one or both parties
adopts a negative attitude about closing the gap. One way that skilled
negotiators avoid impasses like this is to understand that reaching
agreements with people is rarely such an exact science that we can get
things down to decimal points. Whether you are trying to reconcile a
past due account, buy or sell a product or service, or dickering over
the amount of your annual raise, rare is the book that says what the
item is worth. How much will a jury award? How much would another buyer
pay? How much would another employer pay for your services? And, if the
solution to the various problems over which we typically negotiate were
so easily found, there would be no reason to negotiate in the first
place. Thus, by the very nature of the beast, the "fair" resolution in
every negotiation is a range, not a point in space. By keeping this in
mind, skilled negotiators are more flexible than novices.
Whenever I negotiate for a client, I look
for the "favorable middle ground - where my client is pleased with the
resolution and the other party is satisfied enough to do the deal.
Don't neglect c
To ease the stress of negotiating and
improve the chances for a successful result, establish rapport with your
opponent, and build on that foundation. This is especially important in
cases where the parties will have a long-term relationship after
closure. If there is a secret to creating and sustaining trust in
negotiation it is simply recognizing a norm in human behavior. We call
it the norm of reciprocity. The norm of reciprocity in negotiation
amounts to a simple, three-step code of conduct. First, you should
always be trustworthy and reliable. Second, you should be fair to those
who are fair to you. And lastly, you should let others know when you
think they have treated you unfairly. Unfair treatment, left unnoticed
or unrequited, breeds exploitation, followed by resentment and the
ultimate collapse of the relationship. Remember, generosity begets
generosity. Fairness begets fairness. Unfairness ought to beget a firm
response. That's the norm of reciprocity in relationships.
Always take turns. After you make a move,
wait until the other party reciprocates before you move again. Another
time-tested way to encourage the delicate process of establishing trust
in working relationships is to give the other side something as a symbol
of good faith. Behavioral economists have argued that gifts - especially
gifts between unrelated strangers - often serve as signals regarding
intentions to invest in a future relationship. If you find it hard to
establish rapport with the unreasonable, rude SOB on the other end of
the phone, don't give up. There are a couple of things you can do.
First, consider an "end run". For example, if you are a credit manager
dealing with the accounts payable manager, and you find it impossible to
communicate with him or her, consider having your salesperson
communicate with their buyer. Second, consider engaging another credit
professional in your organization who you know has good rapport with
your opponent. Third, consider employing a mediator.
The best time for handling people
problems is before they become people problems. This means building a
personal and organizational relationship with the other side that can
cushion the people on each side against the knocks of negotiation.
All the behavioral professionals like
Buckingham and Fisher tell us that "people problems" fall into three
categories: perception, emotion, and communication. Facts, even if
established, may do nothing to solve the problem. They recommend that we
place ourselves in their shoes.
The ability to see the situation as the
other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most
important skills a negotiator can possess. To accomplish this task you
should be prepared to withhold judgment while you focus on their
perspective. Seek your opponent's advice concerning how to resolve the
issue. You probably will not like what you hear, but he or she will feel
better about you because you inquired. Apart from the substantive
merits, the feeling of participation in the process is perhaps the
single most important factor in determining whether a negotiator accepts
Although this suggests that intimidation
tactics are ineffective, which, of course, is not true. The skilled
negotiator understands that persuasion is usually superior to
intimidation as a negotiation tactic. If intimidation works, it only
works when the negotiating playing field is un-balanced for some reason,
where one party has so much greater leverage than the other, that the
interaction can scarcely be called a negotiation. And, as every parent
who has raised a child to adolescence knows, intimidation almost always
results in passive aggressive behavior and resentment.
Be cooperative, but don't let your guard
down. Studies have shown that cooperative negotiators are more effective
than competitive negotiators. Successful negotiation does not need to be
tricky. But it helps to be alert and prudent. The best negotiators play
it straight, ask a lot of questions, listen carefully, and concentrate
on what they and the other party are trying to accomplish at the
bargaining table. The Skilled negotiator studies the terrain before
settling into a negotiation. He understands that some negotiators are
cooperative and some are competitive. Being too cooperative with a
highly competitive negotiator is a good way to get manipulated. Pursuing
a soft and friendly form of positional bargaining makes you vulnerable
to someone who plays a hard game of positional bargaining. In positional
bargaining, a hard game dominates a soft one.
Listen. It is hard to overstate the
importance of listening skills in negotiation. The best negotiators ask
questions, test for understanding, summarize discussions, and listen,
listen, listen. You often get more by finding out what the other person
wants than you do by clever arguments supporting what you need. The best
strategy to adopt while the other side lets off steam is to listen
quietly without responding to their attacks, and occasionally to ask the
speaker to continue until he has spoken his last word. In this way, you
offer little support to the inflammatory substance, give the speaker
every encouragement to speak himself out, and leave little or no residue
to fester. Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said. It has
been said that the cheapest concession you can make to the other side is
to let them know that they have been heard. Standard techniques of good
listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other
party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to
request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty.
Unless you acknowledge what they are saying and demonstrate that you
understand them, they may believe you have not heard them or do not
Develop a flexible negotiation plan. I am
convinced that you need to approach each negotiation with a well
conceived game plan. Skilled negotiators develop strategies for each
phase of the negotiation process: opening, middle, and conclusion. Like
master chess players, they come to the table knowing how they are going
to open. They understand that, from there on, strategies have to be
flexible because how their opponents respond to opening offers is
unpredictable. Nevertheless, they plan ahead as much as possible.
A simple format to follow when developing
a negotiating plan is:
What do I want?
Where do I start?
When do I move?
How do I close?
While a novice
negotiator may do some planning, he does not plan thoroughly. For
example, a skilled negotiator will always develop a closing strategy. He
knows whether he wants to close sooner rather than later and whether he
wants extensive documentation or if an outline of the deal will do.
In our next column we will discuss the
planning stage of the negotiation.
I Wish You
David Balovich is an author, credit consultant, educator, and public
can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Creditworthy website.