HR & Management

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How to negotiate with an edge

6 Mins

We assume that negotiations are difficult and require a special innate talent, but with Gavin Kennedy’s seven steps from 1998, you’ll be a pro in no time.

1. Don’t accept the first offer

Let’s say you have given an employee too much work. There are two solutions: either they do less or you want them to do more for their money. So you put a deal to the employee and they accept – because they are impatient or think it’s important that they accept. What they’re telling you is that your offer is too good. And the employee will be thinking, “how much would he have really paid me?” By accepting the offer they’ve removed the possibility of you changing the deal to something mutually attractive.

2. Do more than just complain

When you complain about something, you spend most of the time not only going through what went wrong, but getting worked up about it and thinking of arguments you’re going to use to criticise. You spend very little time thinking about what you want done about it. This usually results in clashes. It’s more important for the negotiator to concentrate not just on what is upsetting you but to propose a remedy – what you want done proportionate to the problem.

3. Sell cheap – get famous

Sometimes we let our negotiating guard slip because someone wants something for nothing and we are pressured, or desperate, or enthusiastic enough to give it to them. One party proposes that if you do a job for a low price on this occasion, the next time it will be worth shedloads of cash. It may or may not be true. But it’s all promises. Far better to get the deal made specific. Ask, “What things are going to happen if I do it for this price?” And if the job is for a big or prestigious company, “What references will you give me?” Or, “What kind of support will you give me and when?”

4. Don’t react to silence

If you make a proposal, don’t modify it or improve it unless and until the other party has said their piece. Remember the young man who made a proposal to a panel of Asian businessmen. When they all sat quietly, he panicked and thought, “They don’t like my proposal.” To break the silence, he improved his proposal. This happened three or four times until he reached his limit. The moral is: when you make a proposal or ask a question, SHUT UP. You don’t move until you anchor the other party. They feel the pressure of silence as much as you do.

5. It’s important to listen

We’re not very good at listening because we don’t listen closely enough and often get bored and switch off. Our minds wander and we think we can keep up by just turning into the key points. One device people use to move negotiations forwards is signalling, but you will only pick it up if you listen carefully. For example, if someone moves from saying, “nobody could ever meet that delivery target” to “nobody could ever meet that delivery target without extraordinary costs,” you can hear an opening for manoeuvre. You need to listen to the exact words that people use.

6. Confirm the deal

You’ve done a deal, you’re euphoric and in a hurry. So you decide to send them a note later. No. Much better to agree to summarise what you’ve agreed –either by reading it out or writing it down. If you’re in an office or hotel, get it photocopied and make sure each person signs it. This can prevent problems later. There’s nothing better at destroying a relationship than an argument about what you actually agreed. In fact, it’s a good idea to summarise constantly throughout the negotiation – it ensures continued understanding and it also gives you time to think.

7. What are our interests?

If you get stuck at an early stage of negotiation, try establishing common ground or mutual interest. What are the concerns of the person with whom you are trying to do business? In what way can your deal help to make them more successful? In the US they’ve developed something called “co-opetition” – a combination of competition and co-operation. You’re in competition with other people who supply your customers or who hire your workforce, but you are not in competition with the people you are negotiating with. So work out common interests.

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