Human beings are complex creatures with a variety of needs and wants that are usually in conflict with the needs and wants of the people around them. This can cause problems and disagreements in every aspect of your life, from your work success to your relationships at home. Though there will probably always be these interpersonal conflicts, you can learn to manage them better by learning negotiation skills.
Negotiation skills are the best way to settle disagreements and be a leader in any situation. These skills enable you to work with another person with opposing needs or wants to find a compromise that works for both of you. A key part of this process is to maintain the integrity of the underlying relationship. After all, if you fell out with everyone you disagreed with, you would probably be left all alone in the world. Negotiating well will help you to protect your relationships even when you disagree with the other person. And it will help you reach a fair solution to problems without arguing.
You already negotiate every day. When you talk to your spouse about the best house to buy, what you want for dinner, or how to raise your children, you’re negotiating. When you talk to your boss about a pay rise you’re negotiating. And when you meet up with friends and try to decide what to do, you’re working with the group to find an option that sounds fun and interesting to everyone involved.
Do you negotiate regularly with friends, family or workmates? How might your life change if you improve your skills in this area?
Why do you Need to Learn to Negotiate?
Everyone has dreams, wishes, preferences, needs and wants that they work towards and aim for in their life. Unfortunately, what you want from life, from the people around you, and from yourself, will usually conflict with what other people want. For example, if you prefer Thai food over Italian when you’re out with friends, there’s likely to be one person who hates Thai food. And if you’d prefer to live in the city rather than the country, chances are that will make your spouse’s life too difficult. It’s a fact of life that people disagree constantly and often have opposing needs in every type of relationship.
If you do have needs that are in opposition to what your spouse, child, or boss wants, it can be tempting to shout them down. After all, you probably want to get the best outcome possible from the interaction, which means getting your way. But this is an ineffective and extremely damaging way to function. It damages the underlying relationship and it leaves the other person feeling taken advantage of and resentful. You can’t have your way all the time, and if you think otherwise you will probably end up a very lonely and isolated person.
Learning to negotiate can be a way to leave your old style of disagreeing behind. It will teach you to compromise, to work with other people to design a solution that works for both people. This solution probably won’t include everything you wanted, but it will include enough to make you happy while also meeting many of the needs of the other person. And it will help you to build and maintain a relationship with the other person that’s based on mutual respect and co-creation of the relationship and your lives.
The Stages of Negotiation
Even in the simplest negotiations there are different stages that you need to be aware of, and with the more complex interactions these stages could take weeks or months. Understanding these stages can help you understand the process and give you more control over your reactions and over the interaction itself. The basic stages of negotiation include:
Before you move into any situation where you have to negotiate, you need to be prepared. This stage is mostly an information gathering stage during which you research the issue, the other party, and similar situations that might be relevant. The amount of research you do depends on the situation. After all, you’re not going to do hours of research when you’re negotiating with your teenager about their curfew. But just asking other parents who have children of the same age can give you a good idea about appropriate times, and will also give you ammunition during the argument.
This is an obvious stage in the negotiation where you talk about the issue. No decisions should be made in this stage. Instead, each party should present their position and their desired conclusion. You can’t make good decisions without good information, so make sure this stage continues until both parties understand exactly what’s happening.
Communication between two people is a strange thing. Too often, people think they’re being clear about their needs or wants when they talk, but those around them are hearing something completely different. These misunderstandings impact every type of relationship, and they’re particularly damaging during negotiations. That’s why you need to clarify during this stage. Restate what the other person said and what they want and have the other party do the same. Make sure both of you understand what’s happening, what’s at stake, and what you both want. This will help you avoid mistakes or hurt feelings later.
During this stage, you need to negotiate. Ideally, you should be trying to achieve a win-win situation during this interaction, one in which both parties end up with an acceptable compromise. During this stage, both parties need to feel heard, and as if their needs and wants have been taken into account. This will help foster understanding and empathy, which will make the negotiation more beneficial for both parties.
After the negotiation stage, the two parties have to come to an agreement. Depending on the interaction, there may be a contract involved here or just a verbal agreement. The agreement between both parties needs to be crystal clear at this stage, to avoid future misunderstandings.
This is the carry through stage, where the agreement is carried out by both parties.
Influential Factors in Negotiations
There are a number of essential factors in any negotiation. These affect the solutions both parties want, their negotiation skills, and their ability to see different options. It’s important before you go into a negotiation that you consider these factors, both as they relate to the other person and to yourself. Obviously you can’t know everything about another person, but understanding some key pieces of information can help you to predict potential points of conflict and places where you will connect. And often, finding those points of connection are pivotal in building a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship during the negotiations.
The four most influential factors in negotiations are:
The interpersonal skills of both parties in a negotiation are obviously important. Negotiation is about communicating, understanding other people and about personal control and understanding. And if you or the other party have problems in any of these areas, it could result in a negotiation that’s filled with misunderstandings and conflict. Your interpersonal skills are vital in your business and life success, so if you think you have a problem in this area it might be time to do some development work.
No matter how often people say that their personal lives shouldn’t impact their business lives this is a naïve statement. Your personal history is relevant in any interaction, and this applies to both parties in a negotiation as well. You obviously don’t want to extensively investigate someone before a negotiation, that would be intrusive and a breach of privacy. But understanding some basic facts about the other person can help you understand and connect with them. And in a negotiation, this is often half the battle.
If you walk into a negotiation with the aim of mutual benefit but the other person walks in wanting to win at all costs it will be a very uneven negotiation. Not everyone will have the same values or the same goals in negotiation that you have. That’s why it’s important that you observe the other person’s attitude to the negotiations and try to understand what they’re looking for from the interaction.
The knowledge base of the two parties involved in a negotiation is obviously vital to the process. If one party knows more about the subject, or can predict the future of it more accurately, they have an obvious advantage in the negotiation.
Sometimes a negotiation just doesn’t go well, no matter how good your skills are. But this doesn’t mean that you should give up or revert to destructive or negative tactics. If you’re in the middle of a negotiation that seems to be going nowhere, try these strategies:
Take a break
Sometimes you just need to take some time and think about something else. In fact, research shows that doing mundane activities allows your brain to work quietly on a problem and actually aids creativity. So if you go for a walk, or take a couple of days between negotiations, you might find that you come up with an amazing solution in the meantime.
Shift your focus
In a negotiation, you usually spend most of your time trying to persuade the other person that you’re right and they’re doing the same. This means that both of you are probably talking a lot and not listening. Shifting your focus from persuading to trying to understand can help you overcome this. It encourages you to listen to the other person, to see their point of view. And this can deescalate a disagreement extremely quickly and put you back on the same page.
Get third party help
If you’re really stuck, you can always ask for help. This may be a friend if the disagreement is in a relationship, or it can be a professional if you’re having trouble in a business interaction. Enlisting the help of a third party will give you an objective view of the situation that the direct participants don’t have. And they can also offer an infusion of fresh ideas too.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
Some disagreements just can’t be resolved. If you’re in a business context, this means that you probably need to find another person or company to work with. In a relationship, it might be time to agree to disagree and move on from the subject. Sometimes, the differences are just too much. This doesn’t mean that you should wash your hands of the other person, but you might need to shelve that deal and find another option.
What Skills do you need to Negotiate?
Negotiation takes a combination of skills and abilities that don’t often come naturally to people. That’s why improving these skills can give you an edge in all types of negotiations and interactions in both your business and personal life. Some of the most vital negotiation skills are:
To negotiate well you need to be able to express yourself and your position well. This involves basic communication skills such as talking with clarity, paying attention to your word choices, and your confidence in interactions. Working on these skills can mean the difference between communicating your point concisely and talking in a way that causes problems and misunderstandings.
Many people don’t listen well, and this can affect empathy and understanding in a negotiation. Learning active listening skills will help with that. It will teach you how to be fully present in the moment and how to take in and respond to what people say rather than to what you think they say.
Negotiation is about relationships. If you can’t build a relationship based on trust and mutual benefit with the person you’re negotiating with, then you have little chance of convincing them to work with you to the best end. This usually results in interactions that are confrontational and one sided, and this is a certain way to get an uneven result from the negotiations. This isn’t the purpose of negotiation, and if you have this aim then it may be time to start thinking about strategies that are both more effective and fair.
Negotiating is a creative process. It requires you to think laterally, to overcome problems and design solutions that suit both parties. That’s why good problem solving skills are essential in the negotiation process.
You need to be able to make quick decisions when it comes to negotiations. If you can’t look at an offer, quickly evaluate the value and the drawbacks of the terms and make an informed choice, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage in negotiations.
You must stay in control during negotiations. No matter how personal it is or seems to be, the person who loses their temper or has an emotional outburst loses any advantage they might have had in a negotiation. That’s why you need to learn to control your emotions and create some emotional distance if possible. This will also help you to see every aspect of the issue, not just what your emotions have highlighted. Learning to control your emotions will also help to improve your decision making skills as well.
A destructive negotiation is one that’s based on the idea that one person has to lose so the other can win. Whether it’s in business or in personal relationships, this kind of thinking is ineffective and damaging to any relationship that might exist. Using negotiation techniques that are aggressive, exploitative or downright manipulative creates an atmosphere of conflict and mistrust. It strangles any co-operative relationship that could form, reduces creative thought, and usually results in a deal that doesn’t satisfy either party. There are a number of tactics that can fall under this heading. You should never use them yourself, but it’s important that you learn about them so you understand when and if they’re used against you. Some of the most common destructive strategies include:
- Personal insults
- Bluffing or lying
- Threats and warnings (aggression in any form)
- Good cop, bad cop
- Refusing to negotiate
The Best Negotiation Strategies for Business
Obviously, different negotiation strategies will work in different contexts and different situations. But there are certain strategies that can be useful in every type of business negotiation. Some of the best and most useful business negotiation strategies include:
Make multiple offers
In a business or a personal negotiation, it can sometimes be helpful to make more than one offer. Each should be equally valuable, that is allow you to get a benefit that you want. Even if all the offers are rejected, you can ask the other party which they prefer and this will give you a good idea of what they want from the negotiation and how to structure your next offer.
Account for contingencies
Often when you negotiate, people will disagree with you because they have an opposing view of the future. For example, if you’re promising a certain amount of work to someone, they might not agree that you can finish it in time. If you can’t convince them otherwise, a contingent agreement acknowledges this disagreement without allowing it to derail the negotiation. You simply agree on penalties if you don’t complete the work in time and move on.
Have a bottom line offer
Before you walk into a negotiation, you need to know what your bottom line offer is. This is the lowest offer you can take and still get benefits or profit from the deal. Knowing this number ahead of time will ensure that you don’t stay too long in negotiations that aren’t benefiting you.
Make your first offer bold
Your first offer sets the tone of the negotiation and all future offers will move up from there. So if you’re timid about making an offer that seems too far from what the other party is expecting, chances are extremely good that you will end up paying too much, or not getting paid enough. Make your offer bold. As long as it isn’t insulting, the other person won’t usually mind as long as you make it clear that you’re willing to negotiate from there.
How to Negotiate in Personal Relationships
You can’t usually negotiate in personal relationships the way you would in business. For starters, the disagreements you have will probably be very different, based on values rather than on strictly material concerns. If you want to learn to negotiate in a more constructive way in your personal relationship, here are some tactics that can help:
Be careful about setting hard limits
If you come into a personal negotiation with hard limits, it limits the negotiations. Hard limits may be fine when it comes to your personal safety or integrity, but it doesn’t make sense to set them in terms of where you go for dinner or how much housework you do. Hard limits mean that you’re no longer open to creative thought or real negotiation. Instead, have a guideline in mind but be prepared to make changes if the other person comes up with a creative solution that might work better.
Haggling is a lose-win way of negotiating. When you haggle, you’re trying to get the most you can while taking as much as possible from the other person. If you approach your relationships like this it will slowly erode the trust and cause a lot of resentment.
If your negotiations always end in yelling matches then you’re doing it wrong. Once someone yells the negotiation is over. Neither party is listening at that stage and any solution that you come to will be based on anger and resentment rather than mutual co-operation. Walk away if you’re starting to feel angry.
Work as a team
Whether you’re negotiating with a friend, a partner or a child, work as a team towards a solution. This means that neither party is allowed to take on a controlling role, instead both views carry equal weight and should be treated with respect.
Value the relationship above the negotiation
If you want to stay in your relationship and keep it healthy, it must be your first priority in any interaction. Underhanded tactics such as bullying, manipulating, nagging or bartering may seem easier than negotiating, but they erode the relationship over the long term. In most arguments, the relationship is more important than being right, and this should be your first priority in any disagreement.
Everyone negotiates every day. It’s a normal part of life. When you try to work out where you’re going for dinner, or when you’re arguing with a friend or partner, you’re negotiating. But most people never even think about how good their negotiation skills are, let alone work to improve them. This leaves them at a disadvantage in a daily basis, and even more so in a business context when they’re faced with people who think about and work on these skills. Learning to negotiate will teach you to get the best from your interactions, to stand up for yourself and for what you want, and how to work with someone with opposing views to get the best result possible. And this will help in every aspect of your life and in your interactions with others.
Have you ever tried to negotiate and failed? Share the story with us in the comments below.