If you’ve been working for any length of time, you’ve likely negotiated more than a few times - from hiring key personnel to working with suppliers, customers, investors or board members. Perhaps it was renegotiating a client’s parts production contract. It might have been your sales team needing to negotiate more effectively to meet new sales goals. You might have had to renegotiate partnerships with your marketing team in order to stay on budget.
Regardless of the scenario and our experience, most of us have some trepidation when entering into negotiations. They can be tense and fraught with emotion. When many hear the word “negotiation”, it elicits fear, apprehension, competitiveness, distrust or feelings of avoidance.
In coaching professionals, I have witnessed varying degrees of the above emotions. The normally confident, candid individual goes silent and becomes deceitful when negotiating. Depending upon their level of fear or anxiety, individuals can run the gamut from telling half-truths to outright lying. Where does the fear come from?
Negotiate Better without Compromises
Most often, people have negotiation apprehension due to the images our culture conjures about the ruthless negotiator. They go to the table with a preconceived notion that if they’re open and honest, they’ll fail to get what they want out of the deal.
With the right strategy in place, their fears can be assuaged. They’ll then stand a very good chance of getting what they want without compromising at all.
Let’s explore the necessary steps now:
Who would you open up to – someone who withholds information and is somewhat distant or the person who exudes openness, authenticity and generosity? Your negotiations can move in a positive direction or a negative one, depending upon your negotiation counterpart. First, you have to understand their interactive style. Once you recognize their style and know how to effectively communicate with it, you’ll be able to make your counterpart feel comfortable, which will lead to a connection.
When you have a genuine connection with someone, you’re able to put yourself in his or her shoes. It fosters greater empathy and understanding, leading you to go deeper into the discovery process. As you know from my previous blogs, discovery is essential to a successful negotiation. The process of discovery should yield the desired outcome of each party. When you understand your counterpart’s motivators and objectives, it will pave the way for a more focused, productive negotiation for all involved.
So how do you make this all-important connection so it leads to discovery? I liken it to slowly peeling an onion. You have to methodically pull back each layer delicately. The outer skin is the small talk phase, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you. Boy, it seems like the rain will never let up.” The next layer of the onion might have some imperfections, so you’ll want to pull it back carefully, “Thank you for meeting with me today. I look forward to reaching a mutually favorable agreement. I’d love to hear more about what you’d like to accomplish.” Then, and this is key, you listen calmly, respectfully and attentively.
Dovetailing on the last point, exhibiting respect will go a long way to breaking down barriers and encouraging your counterpart to open up. If done right, the insights gained from discovery on both sides will not only strengthen the connection but will enhance the veracity of the third step. Keep in mind, connection and respect can’t be faked. Maybe you can get away with it initially. However, as the negotiation unfolds, if you’re not sincere, it will become evident to your counterpart. Consequently, they’ll feel threatened and likely shutdown, leading to the deterioration of your negotiation. Listening calmly and attentively goes a long way to instilling respect in the connection you’ve just made.
In our more interconnected world, we also need to be aware of culture differences. Why? When we understand them and adhere to them, we exhibit respect for our counterpart. The book “Kiss Bow or Shake Hands” explores business protocol in more than 60 countries. Whether or not you and your team conduct business internationally, cultural differences are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the protocols mentioned in this book, I believe every professional can benefit if they adhere to the following principles, which transcend cultural idiosyncrasies:
- Listen deeply: Active listening can be enhanced through a rapid repeat
technique that I teach clients, increasing their focus.
- Ask good questions: People who are asked unique and insightful questions,
rather than perfunctory ones, tend to pay closer attention and are more likely
to answer thoughtfully. Great questions can help you gain insight into your
counterpart’s world or create discovery for your counterpart that drives action.
- Reframe:The ability to reframe what the other party is saying and feeling to
ensure accuracy displays respect. Furthermore, it also shows that you have
seen things from their perspective and reflects that you can and have
empathized with them.
Conveying respect and candidness throughout the negotiation will snowball, gathering enough strength to peel back the onion fully. It also will engender more trust between both of you, revealing any underlying issues that could impede negotiations without damaging the process itself or the endgame. As a result, a deeper trust will form between you and your counterpart, enabling each to divulge their non-negotiables in a safe environment. You want to know what these non-negotiables are, so that you can address them, moving the negotiations forward.
Furthermore, the better connected you are to your counterpart and the more trust you’ve fostered through your respect of them, the better you’ll be able to anticipate potential obstacles and outcomes and prepare for them. Remember, too, that not all issues are life and death in negotiations. Some might be easy to concede, while others will require more attention and discourse. Building trust and a genuine connection will facilitate this process.
When you’re able to accomplish the first two steps of an effective negotiation system, you’re in a much better position to achieve step three - collaborate. A genuine connection and feeling respected actually motivate your counterpart to cooperate and collaborate with you.
They feel heard and acknowledged, inspiring them to work towards the best solution for all. That trust begets a stronger connection down the road too. Ultimately, it acts as an insurance policy that the collaboration will move forward and the negotiations will conclude successfully for all. The best negotiators are able to collaborate. More importantly, they’re able to enlist their counterparts to do so as well – imbuing them with a feeling that they did so on their own volition.
Make no mistake though. Collaboration isn’t a one-off. It is an ongoing process, necessary to drill down to the central negotiation issue. Each party proposes their solution. Their counterpart considers it, amending it. The process continues back and forth until they are able to arrive at a solution amenable to both.
At this juncture, everyone is eager to work together towards a successful conclusion. However, the stealth negotiator will never lose sight of the ultimate goal or endgame. He or she stays focused on what it will take to reach their objectives and commits to seeing it through to the end; thus, they continue the collaboration.
All too often, people think a negotiation concludes at the conference room table with a handshake. In reality, it’s where everything can fall apart quickly.
How do you nip a negotiation implosion in the bud? You develop and implement a plan of action (POA). This POA will serve as a negotiation maintenance program of sorts. It requires a series of metrics to ensure its efficacy.
Let’s go back to our first step, connect. If carried out properly, it will result in discovery, which can lead to valuable information. That information, if used honestly, will establish trust and move the negotiations forward. But there’s a caveat: That discovery must be acted upon. Otherwise, your efforts – and those of your counterpart – are for naught.
What is the best way to utilize and implement discovery? What kinds of metrics will ensure that the negotiation sticks? The following questions can help address those issues:
How will you measure your ability to deliver value consistently? Agreement is a head rush. But when the glow of it ends, the hard work must take place. A transparent line of communication and chain of command should be the foundation of this hard work. Next, ensure that all plan participants have the resources they need to execute and maintain it, with the flexibility to tweak it as necessary.
Do you have a contingency plan in place to deal with any potential obstacles along the way? Negotiations are intangible. In order for them to come to fruition, you need a concrete plan in place. Nothing is foolproof. Things happen, no matter how much we prepare. It’s why you need to keep a pulse on how your negotiation plan is unfolding – what’s working and what’s not. Think of it like a relationship. You meet someone and you hit it off. You start dating. Do you drop the ball then? Do you ignore their complaints or requests? If your significant other seems angry or distant, do you brush it off? If you want to stay together, you don’t. Rather, you check in with each other every now and then. If your significant other expresses that he or she wants more time with you, you have to discuss it. Then you will come to some agreement, most likely requiring a meeting in the middle. Those who genuinely care about the relationship – regardless of whether it’s personal or professional – will check in periodically and make adjustments where necessary to ensure that the agreement has staying power.
Building Blocks that Lead to Better, More Enduring Negotiations
Did you notice that every step built upon the next one? It’s like constructing a foundation. One or two rows of concrete blocks will not support a two-story house. Instead, you carefully build one layer upon the next, repeating this process multiple times. Consequently, you’ll ensure that the foundation is structurally sound. Your house will then end up standing the test of time. A negotiation system is no different.
What’s more, it serves as insurance that the negotiation will move forward in a constructive, fair and permanent manner. Anything worthwhile takes work and ongoing maintenance. Smart negotiators recognize it.
Share your negotiation success stories. Have you tried these steps? What worked for you, and where did things fall short? How did you get back on track?