January 24, 2013

Give and get: how to negotiate better

Never make a concession without explaining it. If you change your position, you must be able to explain why or lose credibility.

We like to think of ourselves as excellent communicators; we’re in the business, right? But, according to a recent article in Ragan’s Health Care Communication News, we as communicators are really in sales. To be successful, we have to “focus on what [we] can give to others, and not what [we] can get.” Author Susan Young claims that an essential business skill is the art of silent listening – mentally slowing down and giving our undivided attention so that we are fully present and in the moment. In other words, don’t talk so much and really listen to what people are saying.

This premise got me thinking about another essential business skill closely tied to” giving and getting” – the art of negotiation. How frequently do you feel you come out on the “wrong” side of a discussion with a coworker, vendor or client? Do you often think the other person got the upper hand or won out on the deal? Are you the one that has to do all the compromising? Well, take heart: most of us don’t like to negotiate and are not very good at it.

A negotiation is a process that you go through to get an agreement. If it is successful, it will work for both you and the other party. You “win” in negotiations by convincing the other party that your solution is the best way to satisfy their needs.

Some guiding principles and tips to keep in mind: First, you must not allow your ego to take over.  When entering a negotiation, always keep your ultimate goals and objectives in mind. Second, win the other party’s trust first; get into the terms and conditions of the agreement only after you have done that. Third, a necessary condition for negotiation is that the terms can be varied. If you are unable to vary the terms, you aren’t negotiating.

One of the key elements in negotiations you should try to control is information – don’t share too much too soon. First, test the other party’s integrity by collecting information before the negotiations, then asking questions you know the answer to. That way, you can gauge whether they can be trusted.

Another key element is time. In negotiations, time is power. Don’t rush. Control the pace. Sometimes, you may want to use a delaying tactic that puts pressure on the other party to make the first concession.

Power is a function of having options and taking risks. We generally have more power than we think we do. But, we don’t often realize our power because we tend to focus too much on our limitations, or we feel we are powerless.

Remember, quick agreement may be viewed as a sign of weakness and, therefore, should be avoided. It will lead to requests for other concessions. When the other party asks for a concession, don’t agree on the spot. Say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you.” By doing this you use time to add value.

Finally, never make a concession without explaining it. If you change your position, you must be able to explain why or lose credibility. And, when you do make a concession, do so in a way that obligates the other party to make the next concession.

The best outcome of a negotiation is a win-win situation – both parties “give” as good as they “get.”

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