No matter your profession, negotiation is part of your work. Think about the last time you met with your boss to discuss projects, overall performance, or a raise. What about a committee meeting to update your company’s strategic plan? In these situations you have to engage in some level of negotiation; from setting the agenda to identifying next steps and responsible parties.
Whatever the level of negotiation it amazes me how little we think about improving these skills. Recently I ‘Googled’ negotiation books and was overwhelmed by the hundreds of hits I received. Who has time to read them all? If you feel the same way, I would like to offer my list of 10 easy ways to improve your negotiation proficiency. The observations below were gleaned from my own experiences in both the corporate and academia worlds.
- Prepare: It is mind-boggling how inadequately we prepare for any type of negotiation; from buying a car to presenting an investment idea to our company’s board of directors. By preparing I mean taking the time to learn more about each of the parties involved. You need to go beyond simply exploring what their needs and wants are. Imagine having to draw out and explain in detail what the other party’s experience and current views are on the topic to be discussed. For instance, if you are seeking a pay raise during tough economic times work on writing and drawing out the other person’s situation. When doing this, elaborate on his/her frustrations and what it is that is really making him/her unhappy. Your success will be based on how well you are able to understand, address, and solve the other person’s issues.
- Know your style: Dr. Richard Shell, from the Wharton School of Business, illustrates how human beings emit five styles during a negotiation: compromising, competing, collaborating, accommodating, and avoiding. There is no right or wrong style; however, there is a right time to deploy them. For example, if you are in a meeting and the conversation doesn’t progress, meaning the participants are discussing the same issue over and over again, bring out your competitive style by stating, “We have discussed this topic at length. Based on our discussion, I recommend we move forward with option #2. Let’s focus the next five minutes on discussing why or why not to move forward with this option.” In this instance you will have illustrated a competitive approach but in a very respectful and open way, ensuring others involved didn’t feel threatened or shutdown.
- Get into their world by asking the right questions: Normally when we are in the thick of any negotiation we tend to focus on our issues and what we are going to say next. During your next negotiation focus on asking questions more than making statements. The best negotiators are the individuals who are able to ask the right questions. You might ask, “What are good questions?” For starters they must be open-ended and open-opportunity allowing the other party to expand further on a specific topic. (Example: “What do you think about the option brought to light by our colleague?”) Additionally, your questions need to offer some level of praise where the other party feels fully vested and valued in the final decision. This can be accomplished by asking, “Could we work on finalizing an agreement based on your ideas and expertise?”
- Don’t judge; just listen and reframe: Let’s get rid of any pre-judgments we might have about the other person. Those pre-judgments act like buffers and don’t allow us to really listen to the facts and information being communicated. The next time you feel you might be pre-judging try writing down what the other person is communicating. Summarize what you wrote to the other person and then ask him/her, “Did I understand you correctly?” This approach will be well received and allow you to add to the information provided; hence moving you closer to generating options and solutions.
- It is all about them: Don’t go into a negotiation thinking it is all about you. Quite the contrary – it is all about the other party. Make sure you communicate that to him/her by asking relevant questions and letting him/her know how much you value his/her opinion.
**Update: Read the next 5 easy ways here.
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