Everyone negotiates, almost every day, on some level, even with themselves in some cases. The idea is to weigh two opposing ideas against each other and give up something one side needs to get something they want from them – simple, right?
Lawsuits are negotiations, divorce settlements, business contracts, even social gatherings (ever try to decide on a restaurant with a group of six people?). Everyday situations require at least some skill at negotiation, and really that’s a good thing. It forces you to define your position on a given situation, to clarify your personal dividing line between “need” and “want”, and forces you to devise rationale to defend your choices. Is it any wonder that decisive people are often the best negotiators?
One helpful hint in successful negotiation is to remove any emotion from the equation. This is difficult to completely accomplish, but the better you are at it, the more likely you are to get what you want. Emotion tends to cloud judgment, makes us do things for reasons other than logic or material gain, and to give in out of pity or caring for the others’ well-being, even at risk to our own.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be nice about it – nice isn’t an emotion, it’s a social convention. You can be civil and still not back off of your position and get what you want without emotionally wounding the other party. No need to be mean, just be firm and accommodating and civil, but stand your ground.
Above all, to be a negotiation, there has to be a spirit of give and take on both sides, some accommodation to the other side’s position, some give in order to get. Without that willingness to cooperate, to lead the proceedings down a path to mutual agreement, then it’s not a negotiation, it’s an ultimatum. A this-is-it, take-it-or-leave-it approach will not produce the results either side wants. It engenders ill will between the parties and creates a very adversarial atmosphere that is counter productive.
Sometimes, the situation just isn’t conducive to negotiation. When one side holds all the power, all the cards, leaving the other side no real room to get and has little to give, negotiations will be strained and of limited value. Job interviews or evaluations for a pay increase are like this – the employee has little leverage in most cases, unless they are absolutely irreplaceable. The best they can hope for is to make a good case, show their value in a persuasive way, and hope the boss is feeling generous or sees potential in keeping the employee happy and productive. The one time where the employee has the whip hand in this relationship is during the initial salary negotiation after the offer is made. Market forces create variance in how much power the employer has, but the odds are always in their favor.
Successful negotiation requires knowledge – knowledge of self, knowledge of the opposition’s position and wants, needs and desires. The better you know your own position, the more strongly you can negotiate it, because you have the surety of knowing where you draw the line, you have a picture of what you can live with, and anything above that is a bonus.If the other side’s line is somewhere near yours, everybody wins at the end. A smart man once said “If both sides feel like they lost a little bit, it’s a good deal” remarking to the spirit of willingness to give up something to get something else.
As you go through your week, take special note of situations that require you to negotiate – you might be surprised how many of them there are – and try to gauge how you might have used knowledge to improve your own position and get a better outcome . . .
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