Negotiation is an attempt by two people (or groups) who are currently in disagreement, to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the difficulty.
Negotiation should result in a win/win solution, so that both parties are happy with the result. In order to achieve this, each party needs to know clearly what the other wants and each party has to be prepared to change or compromise until both feel that the position is acceptable.
The basic skills required for successful negotiation are to be able to:
- Define objectives and be flexible about them
- Explore a wide range of options
- Prepare well
- Listen well
- Obtain information from others
- Assertively communicate their own information
Negotiation is used in a wide range of situations, but we shall limit this discussion to one-to-one negotiation in the workplace. When planning a negotiation it may be worth considering the use of an agenda so the points for discussion are set out in the order in which you wish to deal with them.
There are five stages that need to be completed to reach the end of a negotiation:
- Initial positions
- Compromising or flexibility
- Making the deal
In many situations it is important to know as much as you can about your own position and the position of the other party, so some prior research is often appropriate.
Possible research areas:
- What, exactly, is your own position?
- What, as close as you can get, is the other person’s position?
- What might you settle for?
- What is the other person likely to want?
- Which aspects could be changed and which could not?
- How might a variety of different solutions affect other people or the business itself?
- Is the interaction between different personalities playing a part in the conflict?
- What, if anything, has been tried before?
Each party should start by clearly and assertively stating how they currently see things. There should be no judgment and no personal attacks. Each party should listen carefully to the other without interruptions. Your initial position should be reasonable and not too extreme.
This should proceed in a reasonably amicable manner with each party listening well to the other and then communicating their own points. Each agreeing with what they can of the other’s points will start to produce an atmosphere where cooperation is more likely.
Compromise and Flexibility
As the discussion proceeds, each party may wish to suggest changes to the initial positions, either to their own initial position or to the initial position of the other party. The discussion continues in this way, with the parties trying to maintain an element of flexibility until they can reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.
It is sometimes helpful for parties to make tentative suggestions to the other to try to move things forward. “If I were to do …, would you be prepared to do…?”
Parties may need to take a longer term view and not regard the interchange as a competition where they have to win to the detriment of the other party.
Making the Deal
When agreement has been reached it is most helpful to make a written record of it, including how the implementation of the agreement will be monitored. Both parties should agree the content of the written record and sign it.
Do be aware of your own body language: lean slightly forward and maintain good eye contact so you are looking interested. Smiling appropriately can break down barriers and produce good rapport between two people. Observe the body language of the other party - you can often pick up when they are losing interest, strongly opposed to what you are saying or starting to agree.
Sometimes negotiations break down and the parties concerned are unable to reach an agreement. This may be for a variety of reasons, but in any event some further strategy then needs to be introduced because the conflict cannot be allowed to continue unresolved. Often this is a time at which to introduce a third party mediator (see below). It may also be possible to ask a more senior manager to make a decision binding on both parties (arbitration) – although the two parties in the dispute then have no control over the outcome.