Mediators typically ask parties at an early stage of the process what their negotiation approach or strategy is for the day. Answers typically include “I won’t settle for less than ££” and “I also want XX”. Their strategy of how they get to their goals are often not so well thought through, instead relying on a ‘play it by ear’ approach. Likewise, many parties adopt more extreme starting positions with the commonly understood intention of giving ground later on and hopefully arriving somewhere where they want to be. Very few parties give much thought as to what happens when deadlock occurs, instead adopting fixed pie thinking, not considering how demands may impact on the other or even evaluating their own role in getting into the situation that they find themselves. However, whatever the situation, whether negotiating a contract dispute or British exit (‘Brexit’) from the EU, negotiation preparation is a keen predictor of overall satisfaction for all parties involved (for more information see How to Master Negotiation).
With the “Brexit means Brexit” mantra being repeated throughout British and European political establishments and media punditry and the intention of the new British Prime Minister to begin the 2 year withdrawal process of the UK from the EU in 2017, significant time now needs to be spent on preparing for the negotiation process. Part of that preparation requires the selecting, briefing and training negotiators to ensure that strategies for specific robust, high-value and sustainable outcomes are achieved. As the BBC reported when analysing next steps for the UK post the referendum, “as a rule of thumb 80% of trade negotiation is preparation, 20% execution….important decisions are made before formal negotiations commence.” While we do not really know what the process is likely to look like yet, or even who the specific stakeholders are, the only variables that can be controlled are the skills of the negotiators, the styles they adopt and what the demands are.
We all learn and hone negotiation skills over the courses of our lives, inevitably (or hopefully!) learning from successes and failures. While reflection on these experiences can provide valuable insight as to how to proceed with subsequent negotiations, I have never met anyone that hasn’t wished they weren’t better at various aspects of the skills or processes inherent in negotiation. As noted by Margaret Heffernan, at its best negotiation is an exquisite form of collaboration in which all parties find and express themselves. However in order for this to occur, negotiators need to be competent in a whole range of different skills and techniques. When some of the most experienced negotiators were asked about how they negotiated they mentioned the following techniques that they would deploy.
Judging from the suggestions given by experienced negotiators above, it seems critical that for a successful negotiation, we need to go beyond our instincts or immediate reactions and adopt elements of a principled approach. Generally this means listening to the other party(ies), seeking common ground and options for mutual gain rather than merely stating demands in addition to adopting an attitude focused on deepening rather than damaging relationships that are important for all.Ref: CEDR, How to Master Negotiation (Bloomsbury Press, 2015)
A great negotiation involves collective give-and-take, self-awareness and respect. These aspects will only prevail if skilled negotiators from all stakeholders are well-prepared and are keen to find a workable outcome for all involved, not just for themselves.