Winning the Battle and the War – Negotiation Success

Everyday we enter into a variety of negotiations with prospective employees, current employees, and vendors. Though the situations are different, there are some basic guidelines that will ensure negotiation success.

It is important to remember that the most successful negotiations are entered into and conducted with good faith. This does not necessarily mean giving into every demand or sacrificing your position, but it does mean going into negotiation sessions with the intention of listening, compromising when necessary, and with the spirit of fairness. One good way to establish good faith is to make an initial offering that affirms your willingness to meet your opposition half way. With a vendor it may be a flexible delivery schedule or with a prospective employee with a benefit offer. Choose something with which you have some flexibility and concession will not adversely affect your company’s position.

Remember, prior to entering into negotiations, do your research. See what other businesses are doing, talk to associates, and use your networking contacts to see what other companies are offering. Check what the market is for goods and services, salaries, and benefits. Failure to know what other employers and businesses are offering can cost you money or failure to secure contracts. The internet is a valuable resource, as well as trade association publications, and your contacts in your industry. What are other companies paying for goods, offering in vacation time, and bidding for contracts? You won’t know where to start or what compromises you can make if you don’t know what others are doing. Conducting negotiations with out research is like going in blind.

Success in negotiations starts with good listening skills. Watch your adversary’s body language and behavior closely and gauge their intensity and stress to determine their priorities. Parties to discussion frequently give clues to points that are negotiable and those that are “deal breakers.” Don’t get caught up in the emotions and stress of discussions and lose sight of your opponent’s position. Listen and communicate carefully and without excessive emotion. We have all seen examples of high stakes negotiations where voices are raised, fists are slammed on tables, and the parties stalk out of the room. Sometimes these shows of power make a big impression but deals are settled after the storm passes. Quiet confidence can make as big an impression as raised voices.

Much of your confidence can come from having realistic expectations. Your research will tell you what you can reasonably expect from your challenger. Also, knowing your own budget and company’s needs will tell you what you can live with. Expecting an unrealistic outcome can cause you to loose the war and the battle. As in any battle (and negotiations can be looked upon as battles) is to know the lay of the land. Where are your strengths, where are obstacles to success, and what is your objective? How do you define success? If you are in a contract negotiation with a prospective employee can you offer tuition reimbursement instead of a higher salary? In a negotiation with a vendor can you allow an extra week in delivery in favor of better credit terms? Negotiations are a dance and the way you follow and compensate for your partner’s moves can pay off and make the dance much more pleasant.

Documentation is an important part of the negotiation process. Document your research results and bring them with you to any discussions. Don’t rely on your memory and if at any point you need to do further research, close the session and make arrangements to resume after you have had a chance to check out any points. Take careful notes and with meetings where the stakes are high, audio or video recording can be helpful. For instance, if you are negotiating with a union or collective bargaining unit, an audio or video record can protect you in potential litigation. In normal day to day negotiations careful note taking should suffice. Your notes should be maintained in confidential files. It goes without saying that all final settlements should be in writing and reviewed thoroughly before signing.

The watch word for negotiation success is caution. The commitments you make will have far reaching consequences for your business and taking your time and being cautious will ensure that the obligations and benefits you are negotiating for will be the ones that will enrich your company.