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10 Tips For More Effective Negotiation

When I ask groups, 'How often do you negotiate?' they generally respond with answers like 'occasionally' or 'not very often.' While this is a common and sincerely-held belief, it isn’t strictly true. The truth is that we are always negotiating. We can't not negotiate. Whether it is asking our manager for additional resources, delegating work, or even deciding whose turn it is to make the team coffees - life is one big negotiation.

But if we are to become effective negotiators, it really helps if we are already good at influencing other people. I'm sure you know of someone who is considered a 'good' influencer but leaves a trail of destruction and broken relationships in their wake. That isn't what my approach is about. My approach is strictly honest and ensures the solution is win-win, or no deal.

So here are some tips for you to consider and apply in your workplace. And remember, high trust relationships have a massive influence on whether another human being is both open and willing to be influenced by you, so taking the time to build these will greatly improve your success in negotiation.

1. Highlight reciprocity with an ‘If/Then.’

Presenting a negotiation with an ‘If/Then’ framing is an effective way to agree a reciprocal trade-off, making it clear that both parties gain something from this arrangement. This approach can be used to gain reciprocity when someone is trying to impose on you an instruction or deadline without offering something in return, for example: 'IF I were to agree to meet this very challenging deadline, THEN would you be prepared to do (x,y or z) for me in return?'

2. Help your boss realise the implications of action or inaction.

Imagine this: your boss demands that yet another project needs taking on, and it's you who will be doing the work. It is dangerous and perhaps a little foolish to take on yet another commitment when deep down you know it just can't be done without sacrificing quality or other project outputs. Instead of acquiescing to the authority figure, help them understand the implications of you taking on this additional workload. Say 'I am committed to doing my best to achieve all of the outputs you require of me. As you are aware, I am working to tight timescales on many projects at the moment. Just so I can understand which takes top priority, please will you share with me which of the other projects you wish to set aside until this new project is completed?' Bear in mind that bosses are perhaps not open to setting something aside - they just want it doing! After all, they also have their own pressures to deal with, so this is where your integrity and assertiveness need to shine through.

3. Help them understand possible consequences.

If your boss is putting you under pressure to get something done, the chances are that they too are under pressure for that task to be completed. Clearly communicating to them the potential consequences of their decisions gives them the necessary context to re-evaluate their choice and engage in a positive dialogue. When people genuinely understand, they are far more likely to be open to your honest professional perspective. Think of a medical doctor talking to a patient. Does he say 'You need to stop smoking' or 'You need to stop smoking because if you choose to continue you will not be around to walk your daughter down the aisle.' Which do you think would be more effective?

4. Use softeners.

In a spirited discussion, the question 'AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?' has a very different impact to 'Please will you help me understand exactly what is meant by that?' It’s important in any negotiation not to use language that will put your colleague or client on the back foot and make them less receptive to your point of view. As soon as someone feels like they are being attacked, they close up, and become more convinced that you are wrong – after all, you are being so mean. Using softners in your speech prevents this. Good softeners include 'Just so I can be clear...’ ‘May I just ask you a question about...’ ‘If you could help me understand (a,b or c) in more detail, I'd really appreciate it...’ ‘Bearing in mind our agreement about (a), what are your thoughts on how it can be achieved?’ ‘Do we all agree that.....?’ Softeners are like a medical doctor having a wonderful bedside manner. Consider your bedside manner carefully - or there could be severe implications!

5. Keep your commitments.

If you say you will do something, do it. If you say you won't do something, don't. Pretty simple really, but it is the key foundation for building trust. People trust people who make good things happen. And people trust people who stick to their word.

6. Remember the power of WE.

Often, but not always, two (or more) heads are better than one. If you can’t convince your manager to see your way, ask your peers to assess your proposal independently and challenge your opinions and assumptions. If you have a colleague or two who have challenged your thinking and come to the conclusion that they genuinely agree with your research and facts, you can return to your manager and state something like ‘this person and this person have reviewed my data independently and they all believe that the recommendation is the most appropriate for this matter.’ Remember to stay away from 'They all agreed with me so I'm right and you're wrong' – this isn't helpful to anyone. Honestly applying the power of WE may help your colleague to be a little more open to a different way of thinking or at the very least, positioned with integrity, your polite persistence may reflect that you are a committed and helpful worker.

7. Separate facts from opinions.

Dialogue can become fraught with anger, frustration, and disappointment when we have what we believe is a great idea, only for it to be rejected by a boss or peer group. Be aware that opinions are just that – they are simply beliefs that an individual or a group hold about something. A fact though has indisputable evidence to support it. Always, always, always ask a question to clarify whether a statement is a fact or opinion.

8. Use effective tag questions

. A tag question is a phrase at the end of a sentence that invites the other party to respond. Used sparingly, tag questions can be highly effective in a negotiation or meeting. Examples of tag questions are: ‘Do we both agree?’ ‘I have understood correctly, haven't I?’ ‘I'm correct in remembering we agreed the deadline, aren't I?’ ‘That is your understanding too, is it not?’ ‘This is my understanding of the problem, is that correct?’ Don't use too many in quick succession, as the other party may feel like they are being interrogated. Remember that tag questions – like with all these techniques – must be applied with a genuine win-win outcome in mind.

9. Say NO and stick to it.

This may sound like a tough position to stick with, especially when you are negotiating with your boss or a high-value client. But it’s important to stick to your NO position until both parties agree to collaborate openly and honestly to explore, and hopefully reach, an agreement that works for both parties. Saying no is not digging your heels in, being obstructive, or being childish. It is a starting point from which to start negotiating. After all, would you like me to make a commitment to you and then not follow through? What about if I knew all along I either couldn't or wouldn't keep it and I never told you? This is what you would be doing if you relent and say ‘yes’ to taking on a task you cannot manage. By sticking to your initial ‘no,’ you can begin a positive conversation about what action can be taken instead to achieve the best outcome for all parties involved. You could start with something like 'because of the discussed negative implications for us both, I do need to say no to your request as a whole. BUT, perhaps we can agree to work on a, b, and c, as they are most important to you and your stakeholder. Perhaps we can get these pieces completed fully and to the required standard before starting on d, e, and f. Do we agree this is a good step forward?'

10. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify

– So often problems arise not from lack of hard work or ability, but simple misunderstandings and miscommunication between colleagues. Sometimes two people will walk away from the same meeting happy that the next steps in the project have been agreed – only for their understandings of what precisely those next steps are to be totally different. Always clarify your understanding and perceived agreements on the spot when any misunderstandings can be resolved, not later when your head is elsewhere. When you have clarified all that is required, only then should you move forward. Only when you are sure of your shared understanding should you then move on to the next steps.

it all starts with a chat.

When will be good for you?