Deborah Mackin

Article Summary:

Negotiating tips, focussing on the people side of negotiations.

Negotiating Tips: The People Side of Negotiations

We all learned the basic elements of negotiating when we were children trying to get permission to stay up late to watch a favorite TV show: the application of power ("Oh please mom, I'll do all my chores tomorrow if you let me stay up tonight."), the use of time (in this case, the delay tactic of procrastination), and the use of information ("Dad said it would be alright."). When we applied all three strategies, chances are we got what we wanted. Over time, we learned to apply these strategies without thinking. Negotiation is often more about how we interact with people than having a logical, convincing argument.

Negotiation begins with jockeying for power. We might use various types of power: expertise, position, knowledge of needs and interests, precedence, or persistence. If the negotiation is adversarial, we must be careful not to diffuse the other person's perception of our power, unless we get something. Attitude is also power and it's important to not care too much. Negotiation power is better when played like a game -- very hard to do when the stakes are high.

Negotiation doesn't have a fixed timeframe. Most settlements occur close to the deadline and much of the early stage is often just posturing. Time in negotiation can be divided into three parts: 1: before the negotiation when time is best spent on research; 2: during the negotiation when you will need to clarify time assumptions and expectations; and 3: at the end of the negotiation when firming commitments and accountability is crucial.

Information represents power. If you know more than the other person, you have an advantage. Information must be handled carefully. It's better to avoid pushing too quickly for agreement and, instead, gradually create a climate of trust and composure. Don't dwell on the problems in the beginning; first identify what is right and needs to continue. Then clarify points that are not understood. During this process of exploring mutual interests and needs, the most valuable skill is to be a good listener.

Now it's your turn to speak. You've done your homework ahead of time and have defined exactly what you hope to achieve. You've aimed high in order to get the best deal, but also have your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). You know your limits. You've thought about how your needs will affect the other person and believe you can get both of your needs met at the same time. You've gathered information about the other person's needs and feel confident there is a win-win option.

Begin by defining your positive intent and desire to achieve the best agreement for both of you. Remember, telling people why you are telling them something before you tell them is a simple method for directing attention where you want it to go. Establish ground rules including the criteria you'll use to evaluate your final agreement. Agree to talk about the substance of the agreement until you've reached a common goal.

Imagine that you are entering into a negotiation with someone who is difficult, positions quickly, and either acts like a bully or withholds information. Here are some clever strategies to consider and be aware of:

  • Evaluate the amount of leverage you have up front and determine what concessions you're willing to make.

  • Express your desire to achieve the best agreement for both. Establish ground rules and criteria you'll need and then state your case modestly, yet assertively.

  • Look to see if the other person is being open and direct. If not, ask "I have told you about my interests as candidly as I can. I sense that you have not been as open with me. Is this accurate or are my feelings unfounded?"

  • If the person starts to use a power tactic, see it for what it is and smile at it. The number one reason why negotiations fail is because both parties get too emotional.

  • Resist the urge to accept the first offer. Remember if you take their first offer, the person may feel there is something wrong with it or they didn't get the best deal. It's better to make them work for resolution because then it has value.

  • Silence is a very powerful negotiation tactic. Whoever breaks the silence is in the weaker position.

  • Don't be lead away from the real issue. When you sense this happening, say "Let's deal with that separately, first we... ."

  • If "nibbling" occurs after the basic agreement is made and the person tries to make little additional requirements, a good retort is to say "If I do that for you, what are you going to do for me?"

  • When someone uses the "vice" tactic by saying, "Oh, you'll have to do better than that!" Respond by asking, "How much better do I have to do?"

  • Your conclusion or solution must show immediate relevance or value to meeting the other party's needs and issues. Remember that if your conclusion or solution "depresses" the other party, it is unlikely to be of any interest.

We may not think of ourselves as negotiators, yet during the past month, I have negotiated with my son to fill the bird feeders, my husband to do the bills, an employee to communicate with me more frequently, and a bank about what I considered an unfair interest charge. I'm not sure I saw these as negotiations when I started, and as a result, not all of them were successful. In fact, I ended up hanging up on the bank. Perhaps, if I saw more of my day-to-day interactions as truly negotiations, and prepared as I suggest we should in "real" negotiations, the outcomes would have been much better. Certainly it's worth trying.

Deborah Mackin is founder and president of New Directions Consulting, Inc. and author of teambuilding books, including the 2nd edition of the Team Building Tool Kit (Fall, 2007). As an international consultant and trainer for 20+ years, Deborah is a widely recognized authority on teams, quality service, productivity, and leadership. For more information, visit New Directions Consulting.

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