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Negotiating

Don’t let the prospect of learning to negotiate fill you with horror.  I’m not talking about how to handle hostage situations or persuade others about your political point of view, or haggle for a bargain in a Turkish street market! 

What I am suggesting is that you take an objective look back at the situations you have been in where you would have benefited from a little bit of negotiating skill.  How many times have you settled a final account for less than you were asking for, and probably less than it was worth? 

How did you handle that negotiation?  Could you have done it better? 

I do not consider myself to be an expert negotiator but I am probably better than an awful lot of the people I come across in business.  I don’t mean to be rude to anyone and these same people are probably better golfers, engineers, photographers, computer buffs, footballers etc than I will ever be.

Negotiating Is A Learnable Skill

Negotiating is a skill that can be learned and it is a skill which improves with practice. 

Please read “Getting To Yes, Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury and for the second edition, Bruce Patton by Random House Business Books.  This great little book will introduce you to the following concepts: 

  • Separate the people from the problem. 
  • Focus on interests not positions. 
  • Invent options for mutual gain. 
  • Insist on using objective criteria. 

Like most subjects, there is an immense body of information about negotiating but these are some of the key concepts.  For my sins I have qualified as a CEDR Accredited Mediator and this little book is recommended reading for what is a very intense but enjoyable course.  Trust me, the Mediators presenting this course were experts at mediation and negotiation and they would not lightly recommend a book on the subject. 

The following is just a flavour of what lies behind good negotiation. 

Separate The People From the Problem 

It is sometimes easy to forget that you are dealing with human beings.  As the book says “They have emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoints; and they are unpredictable.  So are you”

This human aspect can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Sometimes trust, understanding, respect and even friendship can help to resolve matters, whilst occasionally anger, frustration, hostility and egos can make life very difficult.  Another very real problem is that human beings very often confuse their own personal perception with the objective reality of the situation. 

Separating the people from the problem is all about recognising this human interest and literally dealing with it as a separate issue to the main issues about which we are negotiating.

Focus On Interests Not Positions 

In every negotiation you need to look behind the other side’s position and to establish their underlying interests.  The example the book gives is of two men arguing in a library about whether the window should be open or closed.  The astute librarian asks why one wants the window open: “To get some fresh air”.  She asks the other why he wants it closed: “To avoid the draught”.  Her solution is to open the window in the next room thus bringing in fresh air without any draught.

Establishing underlying interests is easier said than done, but it can be done.  Each party should be willing to establish their underlying interests and to communicate them to the other side.  Explain your interests to the other side and be prepared to acknowledge theirs.

If each party can think about their interests and consider possible solutions with an open mind, the chances of a “win win” solution will be increased dramatically. 

Invent Options For Mutual Gain 

This is not as crazy as it may at first appear but it is a difficult concept to explain briefly. 

Sometimes each party will see their task as narrowing the gap between their respective positions or trying to find the one single answer.  Inventing new options may not come very easily for either party but by looking for the single best answer, we may overlook a better solution selected from a wider range of options. 

Insist On Objective Criteria 

The basic concept at work here is that the discussions should include or be based upon objective criteria and not each party’s perception.

Objective criteria should be independent of each side’s will and should be both legitimate and practical.  As the book says:

 “A principled negotiator is open to reasoned persuasion on the merits; a positional bargainer is not.  It is the combination of openness to reason with insistence on a solution based upon objective criteria that makes principled negotiation so persuasive and so effective at getting the other side to play”.

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