Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Week 3 and 4 of coronavirus restriction in the UK.
I had to #negotiate with my daughter to agree on terms so I could work as her #innovation agent. It made me think about negotiations. It is a very important skill to have in business and life. I did not train to be a negotiator so how did I acquire negotiation skills?
There are many people giving training to enhance negotiation skills. A quick Google search gave me 136 000 results when I asked about ‘best negotiation training programs.’ Management courses also tackle negotiations and how to obtain the best deals. I did some management courses so I must have acquired some skills there. I know I acquired some of the vocabulary and tricks to speak the same language as the other negotiators. Theory and books are all very good but until you apply your knowledge, the skills remain latent.
So, how did I acquire my negotiation skills? In order to understand how I learned to negotiate; I need to understand why I need to negotiate. To paraphrase the standard definition of the verb: it is to get something through discussions.
Does the baby crying to get his food count as negotiation? Is screaming and crying an effective way to get what you want? The baby most definitely communicate his/her desire and it is the parent’s job to understand what the baby wants. It is also the parent’s job to teach the toddlers refined negotiation skills.
As a 5-year-old, I left a strong impression on the kindergarten teacher. It seemed I could make everyone do what I wanted them to do. I could even make them chose an activity I wanted instead of the one chosen by the teacher. I was probably not the easiest child to teach, but I was a good student and I was quiet so I could get away with being subversively in charge. My parent never discouraged my natural negotiation skills. Agreed, it was not considered a good skill in the classroom, but my parents saw beyond the disruptive effects and taught me to use my talent wisely.
Nobody wants to be doing useless things.
I have always been asked by managers and colleagues: ‘how do you manage to get difficult people to do what you want them to do’. The answer is that I do not make them do something they do not want to do. I make them do things that are beneficial for them and helps me at the same time. My PhD supervisors was calling me ‘lady boss’ because I was always getting what I needed from others. I certainly don’t want to do useless things and I always think about other uses for my efforts. I use the same principle when I ask someone to do something for me. I also ask very nicely.
Everyone wants something.
You heard it before, negotiation is like playing chess. You need to plan many moves ahead. You need to create many scenarios. You need to see where the ‘opponent’ wants to go. In other words, listen to what the person you are negotiating with wants, assess how this could affect what you want, find ways to get what you need.
Then go one step further, find a way to get what you want whilst giving the other what they want. What they want might not be what they asked. To be good at getting what you want out of negotiations, you need to go beyond what they asked to identify what they need. The key is to listen and do your homework: find out as much as you can about the situation. Don’t tell them what they need, offer them options that might bring better outcomes. It requires more work on your part, but it will give greater returns for both parties.
Know when to step away
As with everything in life, you need to know when to walk away. I was often told I was hard with my girls when I would walk away from their tantrums. I was not. I had reached my limit and I was walking away from that negotiation. How were they to learn that tantrums are not the best tactic to get what you want? Knowing when to walk away from a negotiation is a key skill that comes from knowing (before the negotiation start) your needs and how much you are prepared to let go.
Negotiations should not be a confrontation
I never approach negotiations as a confrontation. In fact, I do not like confrontations. People who know me might be a bit surprised as I am a black belt in karate and study martial arts. It is not a contradiction as, in the spirit of karate, the greatest fights are those won without a blow. Coming back to my 5 years-old self, I was not confronting the teacher, I was convincing all the pupils that my idea was better.
I have grown in age and wisdom. I do not go around telling people my way is the best way behind the teacher’s back. I do my research to get as much information as possible get the right evidence and proof to support my options. I prioritise my needs so I know when to walk away and, most importantly, I try to find options that will give to the other the best outcome possible within my limits.
Recognize your own skills
Understanding the language and tricks of negotiation are important but recognizing your own skills and developing them is key and will come from studying and from your life as well as work experiences. Humans are born negotiators; it is up to you to bring the skills out. There are no shortcuts: confrontation and aggressive behaviour (akin to the screaming and crying of toddlers) do not work once you passed the terrible threes. Ultimately, you want to establish a good personal, working or business relation with the other person. Being nice, respectful and courteous is the ultimate weapon to get what you need.