Good Negotiation Requires a Plan

Get past fear to create positive change.

To witness congress over the last several months, we might get the impression that negotiation is a passive aggressive slug match instead of an art form of elevated communication, or a series of compromises on the way to achieve a common goal. We might roll our eyes when see our elected officials play another game of chicken over how to reduce the debt. But negotiation is something we all do a lot in business.   When a member of your team has a different idea about a project, or when you talk to your boss about a bigger raise, or when a client wants you to cut your rates – all of these examples involve negotiation.   If we can’t look to Congress as a role model of good negotiation where do we turn?

“Aim high,” says Harvey Mackay,noted author and columnist.

He advises us to ask for what we want, and when we do we’ll often get it.  When the answer is “no”, he says to see this as an opening bargaining position. No is not final.  It means at this particular time the other side looks at this negatively.  And, when people hear a new idea it is human nature to react negatively.  Persistence is key.

Adam Galinsky from the Kellogg School of Management recommends negotiating with our heads rather than our hearts. He cautions against negotiating when the primary concern is the relationship.  When we pursue a soft, friendly bargaining style we’re vulnerable to a negotiator who plays hard.  This is why it is difficult to negotiate with friends and family.  The final decision may be so watered down in order to keep the peace that we come away unfulfilled.

To overcome this, address the  problem, not the people.

Roger Fischer’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In would have us consider what we’ll do if negotiations fail.  He suggests we identify our Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).  A BATNA answers the question, “What happens if negotiations break down?”  Being too committed to reaching an agreement is a real danger. To determine your BATNA, create a list of actions you might take if no agreement is reached. Then, improve the ideas with the most potential and then tentatively select the best alternative. This becomes your BATNA.  Negotiating is more effective when you have a solid BATNA.

And finally, negotiations often break down when there is a lack of trust.  Stephen Covey in several of his books says trust is created when we actively listen, ask open ended questions and repeat back to what is said by the other person as good or better than they could.  Others won’t grant our requests until they feel understood.

Negotiation is more art than science, more intuition than a ridged process.  And although there are many examples of poor negotiation and books from experts on the subject, some of the things we can all learn is good negotiation requires a plan, a deep interest in human dynamics, flexibility and commitment to continuous improvement.