Negotiating for a change

Everything is negotiable. Whether or not the negotiation is easy is another thing – Carrie Fisher. 

I’ve realised that negotiation is one of the top skills we need to make changes in life. We require the knowledge, especially when we want to make complex changes like starting a business, transforming an existing one, pursuing a new career, and changing a lifestyle. As we are not standalone islands able to make independent decisions, we are people intertwined in a social circle on whom we depend, and our actions inevitably affect others.

I learned how little I knew about negotiation the hard way by making mistakes. My lack of experience led to cancelled projects and even the risk of losing my job. I couldn’t get my stakeholders on board, and they blocked collaboration as they decided to work on other projects. As a consequence, my management withdrew sponsorship. They mistrusted my leadership capabilities. I had yet to learn. 

I made two classic errors

The first was to be too compromising when I was negotiating the scope of a complex CRM project. I was dead-set on finding the middle ground – a solution that would benefit the course of transformation and the interest of all my stakeholders (IT, Sales, Finance and Production). I was convinced that a good outcome can end in camaraderie – not competition.

The truth was I didn’t feel 100% comfortable negotiating. So I didn’t take my time, and I settled with the minimum IT offered. But, as it turned out, that agreement backfired on me later, during the execution phase. I was left without the programmers on the team to customise crucial modules according to signed upon requirements. 

On another occasion, thinking I’ve learned my lesson from the past failure, I was way too competitive in the negotiation and demanded commitment. My aggressive drive and determination resulted in being off-putting to my stakeholders. As a result, I couldn’t even achieve a middle ground. They turned their backs, and I was left alone with no support, no resources to dip in and no trust from my boss that I could flip things around. 

How did I move forward? I reviewed where I made a mistake, asked for feedback, and paid close attention to how others negotiated. Until then, I was convinced that negotiation is a kind of art. And, it is – partially. There is a lot of spontaneity in it, but there are also ground rules and techniques.

So, here are the most result-oriented best practices I’ve learned: 

Don’t approach negotiation as an argument

Negotiation is simply a discussion between individuals seeking a mutually beneficial outcome. That’s it. Treating it like a conflict might cause you to behave unnecessarily aggressive or tense (on the defensive side). And that is a guarantee for losing a deal. So, approach negotiation as a natural conversation where two or more parties have to reach an agreement voluntarily. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy; that means you will have to be patient but clear on your boundaries.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Do not show up to a negotiation without doing your homework. Save spontaneity for the after negotiation talk. Before the meeting or call, find out the other party’s needs, pressures, and options. Their background, their mission. If you feel intimidated, don’t back off; learn about them and prepare your strategy accordingly. Bear in mind that your counterparties are doing the same due diligence as you and address your weak points. So, be prepared.

Remember your own goals for the negotiation

‘What’s my ideal outcome?’ and ‘Where am I willing to compromise?’. Also, always remember this famous quote from Charles de Gaulle: “France has lost a battle. But France has not lost the war”. So, you might have to give in or make a compromise on something short term to take home more in the longer run. The critical bit is that you stick to your ultimate goal. 

Don’t take it personally

Try to view negotiations as business transactions. What’s most important is coming to a mutually beneficial outcome. Sometimes people will try to intimidate you. And that is because they are adapting the aggressive strategy or think they’ve got nothing to lose. So, don’t focus on defending yourself. Instead, use techniques like mirroring or labelling to flip things around in your favour.

Practice negotiation

Experience is what makes you acquire a skill. I didn’t master the lessons learned until I exercised them over and over again.

Make negotiation part of your skillset by continuously participating in mediations, whether at work with your boss, team or colleagues or at home with your family, neighbours and community. Learn to give in and learn to take away. Every situation is different; however, my lessons learned work every time. But I always pay attention to my contra party and adapt. Negotiation can be easy, like most things, if we understand the basics. And remember: It is simply a discussion between individuals seeking a mutually beneficial outcome. That’s it!