Winning the negotiation game

Some people in jobs where they negotiate day in, day out begin to treat it as a bit of a game. We recently spoke to a very senior client working in mergers and accusations about negotiating, and the language he used was very similar to that used to describe far more leisurely pursuits. ‘Playing’, ‘winning’, ‘tackling’ and ‘goal’ all came up.


It is hard to deny the similarities. In a negotiation both parties will have an aim, and will ‘go in to bat’ to achieve it. But a good negotiation shouldn’t have a winner and a loser. Both parties should leave feeling they have gained something. If there is a definite winner, and an overwhelming loser, that relationship is probably severely damaged – meaning future business is off the cards – a short term gain resulting in long term pain. Skilled negotiators will always look for a win-win solution. It is the most feasible and satisfying outcome.


What is Negotiation?

Negotiation is quite simply a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. We negotiate all the time in almost every communication event we enter into. Even an innocuous ‘good morning’ is a form of positioning, a form of negotiation. It leaves the respondent with a choice – they can agree or disagree.


If neither party has the will or ability to reach an agreement, then a negotiation can very quickly become an argument. This is rarely favourable for either party. Remember, win-win is the most favourable outcome. This requires both parties being willing to concede a little in some areas to get what they want in others.


The Stages of Negotiation

  • Prepare. We are always surprised that some very high level negotiations are not adequately prepared for. Indeed, sometimes parties don’t even realise that they have entered a negotiation situation. To get the most favourable outcome you need to do your homework. Find out about your adversary. What does a win look like for them? What does a loss look like? What are their likely ‘red lines’ and which are the areas they may give a little. Ask yourself the same questions. You must also think about your critical information requirements. Who do you need to support you? How can you establish a rapport? Where and when should the negotiation take place to achieve the best outcome for you. What is your optimum outcome and what will you accept if needs be? Finally, decide on the scope of the negotiation – don’t drag in everything if you don’t need to.


  • Discuss. Open the dialogue as positively as possible. A good working atmosphere is far more likely to produce a favourable outcome. Don’t gloss over the need to build a rapport. Building and maintaining a relationship is likely to be in both parties’ interests. State your position clearly and sincerely. Get the other party to do the same. Listen well and ask the questions you need to. It is as vital that you gain information on the other party’s position as it is to state your own.


  • Propose. Once you are satisfied that you both understand each other’s positions, it is time to clearly state what exactly you want. This sounds logical, but many negotiations miss out this vital step. If you don’t state what you want, you are unlikely to get it. Once you have stated your ideal outcome you must be willing to compromise in some areas, as must the other party. If neither party feels they have any room to compromise, then there is no point continuing the negotiation at this stage. Work hard to get towards a win win. Remain sincere, consistent and as amicable as you can. Whilst striving for your optimum outcome, be prepared to revert to your fallback position if you are serious about reaching a workable solution and your adversary shows signs of equitable compromise.


  • Bargain. Don’t concede without gaining concessions in other areas. If you have prepared well, you should know the limits of where and how much you can concede, and throw these into the mix when the other party shows a similar appetite to concede. If your need is greater than that of your adversary or vice versa, then the concession ration may be heavily skewed in one direction or the other. Do not be afraid to reinforce and reiterate the value of your offer; you should be selling your position/offering constantly. Continue to state what you want as the negotiation progresses. Be careful not to do all the talking.


  • Closure. Ideally the closure should be a win-win where both parties have gained a favourable outcome.  If the relationship with the other party is important, ensure you manage this. Sometimes late concessions  made to maintain a good relationship can be more beneficial on the long run rather than completely turning over your opponent just because you can.


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