The 5 Skills You Need to Get Ahead: Negotiation (6 of 6)

May 3, 2006

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When addressing coworkers or staff members in a negotiation, it’s best to:

ANSWER: (D) Work in concert with the person/people involved in the situation to find a resolution that works for everyone, considering the circumstances.

Negotiation is a process that can be learned, not an event to be anxious about. There are steps you can follow to prepare, create an appropriate climate for negotiation, identify interests, and select outcomes. “Good negotiating skills are really nothing more than good salesmanship,” says Kathleen McKenna-Harmon, an Institute of Real Estate Management instructor based in Minnetonka, MN.

If you think about it, nearly everything you do involves selling or negotiating to reach an agreement about something - a proposal, a new process, the case for new HVAC equipment - and it’s all better handled by a good negotiator. It happens at many levels within your business life. “It’s not just sitting down to negotiate a lease or negotiate a management contract; it deals with all sorts of everyday things like working with your vendors. Negotiation is just part of what you need to be able to do to be effective. If you aren’t able to do at least fundamental negotiating, how are you going to get the best contracts from your vendors, for example? You’ve got to be able to keep your costs under control, and if you aren’t able to negotiate the best (or at least an adequate) contract with people, you’re going to have a very hard time being successful,” says Fred Prassas, president at Chicago-based Institute of Real Estate Management and president at PMC Management Group, La Crosse, WI. “We really are out there negotiating every day; it’s just a matter of focusing in on techniques.”

When you think “negotiation,” a vision of a big boardroom and a nasty confrontation may ensue. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. People tend to take the negotiating process too personally instead of looking at it as a way of making business decisions. “It’s a way to come together to reach win/win decisions - decisions that are good for everyone,” says Prassas.

In the negotiation process, McKenna-Harmon suggests that you first make the effort to find out what all parties have in mind. What are the different wants, needs, and desires? What is negotiable and which terms are deal-breakers? (Include yourself in this analysis.) It also helps if you know the people behind the negotiation. Will someone give in too quickly or give too much away? Will someone become aggressive and potentially damage rapport? Do your homework to find out who you’re negotiating with before you begin; learn as much as you can about the topic or situation up for discussion, too. Know your options. Can you walk away from the deal if necessary? What are the pros and cons of each side? What’s your best-case scenario? Your worst-case scenario? Where would you be willing to fall between those two extremes?

“If you’re going to improve your skills, you need to be able to anticipate what the other side wants, what they need, and what they expect from you. Gather information on the property, if that’s what you’re dealing with - the financial issues, the reputation among the tenants, the physical attributes,” says Prassas.

And, once it’s time to meet face-to-face:

  • Be hard on the problem, not the person. Re-interpret a personal attack as an attack on the issue, and manage your emotions as best as you can. When you negotiate, shut off your internal voice and listen - this way, you won’t miss anything being said.
  • Highlight common ground. What’s fair to both parties? Where do you both agree, and can you use that as a starting point to reach agreements on other topics? Commit yourself to a “win/win” approach (where both parties leave the discussion feeling like their situation is better than before). McKenna-Harmon emphasizes that you shouldn’t make people feel like you’re “dictating” in a negotiation. “Your customers may feel as if they were forced to accept [your] terms rather than agreeing to them after [a] discussion.” The goal is for everyone in the negotiation process to feel that the final agreement was a mutual decision.
  • Be creative about possibilities. Think about trading: “If you will _______ , then I will ______.” If things become tense, end the meeting and begin again later after everyone’s had a chance to reflect.
  • Make clear agreements. All parties should explain, in their own words, the arrangements that were made. Once everyone is on the same page, this information should be written down and copies should be distributed to all persons involved.

McKenna-Harmon suggests starting small (maybe even starting at home). “If you can do the simple things well, it’s not such a leap to the negotiating table with a Fortune 500 firm.”

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