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Negotiation – a skill to master

Negotiation is about extracting maximum value depending on persuading the other party to allow or not block it. Usually the negotiations are considered to be a battle where one party wins and the other party loses. This fighting nature of ours is coming from the long history of human survival and is encoded in our genes. In evolutionary terms, fighting is assumed to be the surest route to survival and increased reproduction, achieving status and belonging. In negotiating, it is a very similar approach that we use to gain what we want.

However, we are missing a point: Negotiation is not a battle. It is a collective decision-making and the parties should not look for exploiting the most for themselves, but find out a solution that maximizes the satisfaction of both sides, given they both should gain from the outcome. Assuming that most of our negotiations are not just one-shot deals, we do not want to ruin our future relationship with the other negotiator. Therefore, the outcome of the negotiation should not be a win-lose, but rather a win-win solution.

First rule of negotiating: Be nice.

Carmen Suro-Bredie

In a very simplistic form, in a negotiation we should be adopting the following principles:

  1. Separate the people from the problem. In almost all cases, people usually do not have any personal issues with each other. The feelings of anger, disappointment and anxiety is arising from not getting the deal they want, rather than the person they are communicating with. Therefore, it is important to separate the people from the problem on the table. No hard feelings, no direct attacks on the persons. For more efficient negotiation, we can go an extra step and try to understand how the other person feels and reacts. By understanding the emotions, we can better formulate our statements to ensure that a negative tension is not arising.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions. William Ury and Roger Fisher stated in their book, Getting To Yes, that “your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide” When we negotiate focusing on positions, automatically one party should “lose”. However, that in most cases is not the favorable outcome. Instead, if we focus on interests behind those positions, there is a high likelihood that the agreement can satisfy both parties’ criteria. The main interests usually are basic human needs: security, economic well-being, a sense of belonging and recognition. Practically, main difficulty is in identifying those interests. People usually do not communicate their interests directly. So, we should ask them. “Why do you specifically hold this position?”, “Why do you think we cannot find another alternative?” or explicitly asking “What is your interest behind this position?”. These are the questions that can easily be answered with no fear of giving out an inside info.
  3. Generate Options. Once we know what the real interests of parties are, we should generate new alternative solutions. Being creative helps here, however just knowing the real interests already helps to identify solutions that can be satisfying for everyone.
  4. Evaluate the agreements on an objective ground. This one is quite difficult to quantify. Nonetheless, we should make sure that whatever option is on the table, there is a benchmark that we can compare it to regarding the feasibility, soundness and justness of the solution offered.

There are many techniques that specifically can teach what to be attentive about: Body language, using “we” instead of “I” in the discussions, being confident but not bossy, and so many others. If we do understand the basic principle of negotiation though, it is easy to improve ourselves on those techniques and even find new ones. Negotiation strategies should support the process so that we get more of what both parties want. By genuinely listening to each other, treating each other fairly, and exploring alternatives together to maximize value, negotiators can get the desired outcome without relying on hard-bargaining and needless concessions.

“Conflict lies not in objective reality, but in people’s heads.”

Martin Luther

If you’d like to explore more on an efficient negotiation, Getting To Yes by William Ury and Roger Fisher is highly recommended.


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