As the saying goes “life is a series of negotiations”, with that in mind, what is an important driver to a successful negotiation (and ergo, life)? Negotiation by nature involves the ability to be persuading or influence other people. This makes conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution an easier practice. The best negotiator aims to generate a courteous and constructive interaction that will result in a win-win situation for all parties involved. While there is no shortage of advice on the best negotiation tips and tricks, these are a few of the universally agreed-upon important drivers for a successful negotiation.
Preparation: Looking at it from the other side, and every other side
Proper preparation is a source of negotiating power because it enhances your ability to persuade the other side to agree to what you are asking for. Having a clear strategy as soon as the negotiations start will set the standard for the entire process. Identify your positions and interests and focus on your goal for the negotiation.
Identify the other party’s positions and goals as well. Thoroughly research the other party. Obtain as much background information and context as possible. Consider all the best possible outcomes from everyone’s point of view and establish your minimum acceptable deal. Every negotiation requires various degrees of compromise and trade-offs. It’s important to determine the issues that are deal-breakers for you. Try to determine which issues are deal-breakers for the other side as well. Can you accept those terms? Evaluate multiple possible counter-offers and prepare your counterarguments.
Part of the preparation should also include identifying all areas of agreement, regardless of how trivial they may be. This will make all other substantive issues easier to resolve. Also, clearly and succinctly identify all the issues to be resolved. Hiding issues and differences or holding things back can result in direct negotiations failing or being unable to reach a compromise. In most negotiation situations you will have a continuing relationship with the other party. That’s why it’s important to come to a mutual feeling of ‘winning’ for both parties.
Preserving business relationships is far more important in the long run. A mutually agreed upon joint decision is the goal. Strong consideration and caution should be exercised toward win-lose positions. People have long memories, and you might encounter them again.
The fundamental objective of negotiating is to reach an agreement.
Interests: The Fundamental/Important Driver
Our basic needs and wants guide what we say and do. All negotiation positions are supported by these interests. Experienced negotiators probe their counterparts’ stated positions to better understand and determine their underlying interests. Discovering the other party’s deep, personal objectives that are veiled behind their business objective will give you an invaluable advantage in the negotiation proceedings. A successful outcome is much more likely if both parties feel like their wants and needs are being addressed and met.
By focusing on interests, we are more likely to capture the most value in a negotiated outcome.
Active Listening: Listening to Understand
Aside from knowing the interest and positions of the other party, listening is also an important driver of its own in negotiating. By asking the right questions and then listening to the answers, you can find out what is driving the other side of the negotiation.
‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’
Actively listening and reflecting back on the words said by your counterparty will give you valuable insight into their position. Making others feel validated and heard will pave the way to a successful negotiation. It builds trust and helps identify common ground and finally achieve a mutually beneficial agreement.
Active listening also helps to separate the person from the problem. Maintaining a rational and goal-focused state of mind is crucial to achieving any success in negotiations. Trivial things like pride and personal attacks are not the objectives. Acknowledge the difference of opinions, show empathy, and continue working on the original problem.
Negotiate the issues, not the client.
A negotiation usually involves several steps including a proposal and several counter-proposals. Just make sure to ‘ignore’ the initial offer, as they are considered the point of departure. As both sides are expected to make concessions, it’s your job to gain information that will help you understand the underlying interests of your opponent. These essential drivers will help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Seeing that there isn’t a singular answer to the question “what is an important driver to a successful negotiation”, one could argue that preparation comes the closest. Considering that part of the preparation includes identifying the counterparty’s interest and active listening to some degree. A combination of these critical negotiation drivers will pave the way for a successful negotiation, every time.