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How to Boost your Business’ Negotiation Skills

negotiator-skills

Summary

Any business can enhance their employees negotiation skills and meet all their business objectives by following this articles advice.

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We learn by doing, and by doing, we can learn even more. Makes sense doesn’t it? When we stop learning, we become like the dog frantically chasing its tail, spinning around and going nowhere. Our business cannot be allowed to become like a stagnant pond, that surrenders to erosion and eventually disappears into the ever-changing landscape either.

A business thrives by remaining vibrant and adapting to the whirlwind of changes that challenge us as managers. We upgrade our equipment to get the latest high tech that bolsters our business. We send our skilled workers on courses to upgrade their abilities, so we can always offer and provide the best services and products to our customers, don’t’ we? So, why don’t most of us managers do the same with our negotiation skills? It’s a sad but true fact, that most companies are remiss when it comes to enhancing and providing potent training skills to their negotiators.

Why we don’t work on our negotiation skills is a real puzzler since these skills are so vital to the lifeblood and survival of an organisation. Negotiation is a powerful tool we use every single day. Managers negotiate with other managers and with their subordinates. Departments negotiate with other departments. We negotiate with our clients, suppliers, unions, local municipalities, service companies and much more. Negotiation skills need to be honed and tempered to perfection, or else they become dull and ineffective.

It also costs your bottom line! That got you sitting up, didn’t it? So, let’s get to work to change this around.

How to Improve Our Negotiation Skills

As managers, we are process oriented. We seek to take what we input into our organisation expecting to get the best possible output. Then, we strive to improve our input continuously so the process is improved even further. This cycle provides the means to enrich our business. The same process must be applied, with the same kind of enthusiastic thrust to our negotiation skills. We should endeavour to make improvements in our negotiations and not view them, as isolated or separate events.

The Negotiation Process

Every professional sports team uses a post game analysis to review, both the areas that were exemplary performed, and to spot errors and lapses in their execution. We need to do the same in our negotiations.

The negotiation phases are broken down into the following segments or stages.

  1. Pre-negotiation
  2. Preparation
  3. Negotiations
  4. Agreement or non-agreement
  5. Post Negotiation Learning

Experiences (Stages 1-4) can be reviewed from the perspective of all the phases of the negotiation process, in the form of feedback loops that will act as learning aids. In stage 5, we can evaluate our performance so that we can learn about what worked and what didn’t work. We can also begin to build a database on the companies and people with whom we negotiated. This will serve as a future information base that will be useful to all stages of the negotiation process.

Finally, we can learn more about our own strengths and weaknesses, and the tactics that worked or didn’t work. We can learn to spot and cope with tricky counterparts, hard nosed negotiators, and all the other various types of negotiators we may encounter. This is all invaluable information that can be reusable to our future advantage.

5 Positive Steps to Developing Negotiating Skills

Here are several ways to improve the skills of our negotiators.

1. Business Negotiating Skills Training and Negotiating Resources

One way to get training, is to use the services of the many excellent consultants who provide negotiating skills seminars. Secondly, there are many courses available that can be taken after the close of the work day, by both management and employees. Lastly, you can develop your own curriculum and create preparation checklists, to ensure that each negotiator prepares in a consistent manner for each negotiation.

Consider using an apprenticeship negotiation skills program to have junior staff tag along with your seasoned veterans. Participation, or passive observation, in real life negotiating situations will increase the learning curve of your novices. Remember also that each negotiation performed by your people, is in itself a valuable case study and learning tool.

2. Ensure your Negotiators Fully Understand the Company’s Goal

Every person who negotiates on behalf of your company must be on the same page so that they fully understand your goals, and the expected results your company wants to attain. Senior management must be clear on the company’s direction and objectives. We must understand the mission statement of the organisation, to use in conjunction with our negotiation strategy. If your company’s objectives are bent on improving profits, then your salespeople have to know, so they can respond and echo these objectives. Otherwise, they may be cutting agreements to gain clients that do not reflect the company’s intended objectives, and this might negatively impact your bottom line.

3. BATNA-BATNA-BATNA!

Every negotiator must ALWAYS know their BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). We must always be aware of our best alternative option, so we can turn to it if no agreement exists. Our BATNA is also used as a yardstick to measure a potential agreement. We need to consider the proposal we are putting forward or examining, so we don’t undervalue a potential agreement. If we strengthen our BATNA, then our negotiating power is also heightened as a result, fundamental to developing our negotiation skills. Finally, we should constantly be exploring ways to improve our BATNA.

4. Never Stop Learning

By analysing each phase of the negotiation process afterwards, we can avoid making the same mistakes again. The information learned from each negotiation, provides situational feedback and a blueprint,or road map to refer back to, and adds further depth to our negotiation skills. It’s like choosing what role you want to take, in the game of ‘Snakes and Ladders‘. If you don’t have a learning program in place, you end up riding the snakes, sliding all the way down back to the starting point of the game. Doesn’t make good business sense does it?

5. Performance and Awards

If you have some form of sales bonus system in place, ask yourself if it truly reflects your company’s objectives. For example, suppose you want your salespeople to negotiate contracts that create valued and long-term relationships with your suppliers. Instead, your salespeople go out and brow beat these suppliers into giving them the cheapest price possible. If the supplier can turn to your competitors for a better deal, how long do you think they will stick with you? We have to ensure that all our negotiation skills emphasis and objectives are in sync. If we devise a way to measure performance, in how we reward our people relative to their performance, then we have truly hit the fast track. Setting consistent standards and gauging the results is the smart way to go.

Conclusion

As negotiators, we must never stop learning and improving our negotiation skills. Our success in negotiations, or lack of success, will always be reflected on the bottom line, make no mistake about it. If you haven’t addressed the impact that your teams’ negotiation skills have on your company or organisation, then isn’t it time you did? Every day that you delay could be costing you dearly.

 

  1. J. Lewicki, A. Litterer, W.Minton, M. Sauders, ‘Negotiation’, 2nd Edition, Irwin,(1994).
  2. Max H. Bazerman, Margaret A. Neale, ‘Negotiating Rationally’, The Free Press – MacMillian, (1992).
  3. Harvard Business Essentials ‘Negotiation’ Harvard Business School Press, (2003).
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