The practice of negotiation goes on all the time around us. Over at the courthouse, lawyers on each side of a divorce case try to gain concessions from each other over a cup of coffee. A husband tries to negotiate a night out without his wife. High in the office
tower, a woman CEO tries to negotiate a lower price on supplies she buys in bulk. Two men discuss the purchase of a car. Everywhere you look, there it is.
Negotiation is particularly essential in business, where managers must deal with the employees they manage as well as with their superiors who manage them. Managers have aims and agendas of their own and suggestions they want to see implemented – negotiation is the tool they will use in achieving their goals. If managers’ wants conflict with supervisors’ and/or employees’ desires, negotiation is the best way to resolve the situation.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to negotiate. An aggressive approach – overpowering the other person and enforcing your will on them – will not foster an atmosphere of respect and teamwork. Passively giving in to the other is not likely to sit well with you in the long run. Better to explore the situation and try to find a solution both sides will find satisfactory.
Jan Daniels was a department head at a small software company. Her brother had just launched a new shipping service that although more expensive than their present service, could save her company money in the long run, by reducing their delivery time to an important client by 25%. She thought the company could save some money by using her brother’s business. Her boss, the VP, she knew would resist her idea (he nearly always resisted her ideas). Some skillful negotiating was called for in this situation.
Prepare in Advance
Instead of immediately making an appointment with her boss, Jan took some time to prepare. She made some notes about her needs in this matter (need to be valued and respected by her supervisors, need to have the admiration and loyalty of her team, need to win to feel proud of herself) and also the needs of her boss as she saw them (need to do all he could to satisfy the client’s needs, need to maintain the company’s reputation for quick delivery, and save the company’s money).
She reflected on her own attitudes about negotiation. On a previous job she had used negotiation effectively and achieved success. Her boss on that job had been behind her all the way, greeting her ideas with enthusiasm and empowering her with funds. Jan had grown confident in her negotiating skills. Jan knew she could not expect that kind of support from her current supervisor, and her confidence had eroded somewhat. With her current supervisor, only three of the seven projects she had proposed had been approved. So she carefully laid out “Plan B,” a possible compromise that would satisfy them both.
Do Your Homework
Jan’s supervisor was a fan of the Win/Lose model of negotiating. Jan preferred the “Win/Win” model, where everyone would profit, including the client. He did have one obsession that Jan believed she could exploit to turn him to her way of thinking: he loved saving the company money.
Different styles of negotiating are appropriate for different circumstances. If Jan were buying a home, for example, an aggressive approach might be appropriate, since she did not need the goodwill of the sellers nor did she expect to have anything to do with them afterward. In the closing of a large sales deal, however, Jan would perhaps have used gamesmanship to gain an advantage.
Neither of these approaches should be used in a team situation. When dealing with a team, playing hardball is simply not effective, nor are tricks or manipulation. When people are trying to work together in a team on a day-to-day basis, honesty and directness are the best tactics to use when a team is involved.
Jan also made notes of some things she might concede in order to get what she wanted, and what her boss might have available to trade. She then worked out the numbers: how much money could the company actually save for their client by hiring her brother’s firm? She carefully documented the total worth in goods this client had purchased over the last 5 years, and the amount of shipping they had paid. Using this figure as a base, Jan forecast sales figures for the next five years, and compared the shipping prices. Instead of the 25% decrease she had estimated, it turned out her company would actually save 31%.
Jan made the appointment and went into the meeting well prepared.
Jan had lost confidence while working for her present boss, but she knew a few things about him that would help her. She knew she must keep her emotions under control and not reveal that the new shipper was her brother, and she must cheerfully ignore any comments her boss might make about (1) women in business; (2) their general ineptness or (3) hers in particularly. She carefully arranged a way her boss could accept her suggestion while saving face and looking good himself – he’d get the credit.
Jan and her boss were not excessively fond of each other, but they knew each other well and had worked out long ago how to work together. Jan may not have realized it but her boss resisted her for a reason. He had found that the more he resisted her ideas, the deeper she would dig for justification; thus her ideas were always researched thoroughly. He knew she resented his attitude toward her, but through working with Jan over the years, he had learned that if he gave in too easily, without making her work, that she lost respect for him.
With full knowledge of each other’s style and limitations, these two trusted each other to act as they had acted in the past throughout the negotiation process. Jan knew her boss was honest; that he would honor his commitments (however painful) and that he would respect her confidences. She would first carefully sound him out on the general topic of their shipping arrangements. If he was dissatisfied with it, or even bored with it, she would find out, and if he was pleased with it – if it was owned by his brother, she would be told that.
As she carefully questioned her supervisor and prepared her argument, Jan concentrated on “What’s good for the company.” At each point she made, (“The company wants to save money,”) she asked for his agreement. “Every good salesman asks for a series of “yes” answers, she reminded herself. Jan didn’t think of the two of them as on opposite sides of the fence, but rather as partners struggling to solve a common problem. Jan did not offer trades or concessions early in the discussion; to do so was to suggest a weak position. Instead, Jan held a forceful position. For one thing, she had the numbers at hand; he did not. She knew all about her brother’s operation; he did not. She knew what the client had paid for shipping over the last five years; he did not. The person who has the knowledge has the advantage.
Jan knew another negotiating tactic that often worked for her: the flinch. Whenever her boss suggested a possibility not to her liking, she would flinch. Unfortunately for Jan, her boss knew about the flinch also, and when the caught themselves flinching at once, they got a good laugh out of it, which broke the tension and brought them closer together.
She also knew that she would have to turn off her inner monologue that we all engage in so that she could focus all her attention on what her boss was saying. That allowed her to catch nuances of body language, facial expressions and voice inflections that gave her clues to what her boss was thinking. By making her speech lively and interesting, she helped to ensure that he listened to her the same way.
Hold onto Your Power
Jan was fully cognizant that he was her supervisor and needn’t grant her any concessions – he could have fired her on the spot if he’d wanted. But she had power of her own, perhaps not external, like his, but an internal power built on her self-esteem, her pride in her work and her self-confidence.
Jan also knew that she had some leverage on her side. For one thing, her boss was not in the best of health and had talked of retiring soon. If she was not able to persuade him, perhaps she could persuade his successor. And she could always walk away, albeit with a fading of the respect she felt for him. And he knew this. She knew he was fond of her. With those factors working for her, she felt she could persuade him to give her brother his business.
In the end, Jan won out. Her boss gave her authority to put her suggestion into practice right away.