On Management

Dec. 21, 2004
Are you an effective negotiator?

In business you don't get what you deserve -- you get what you negotiate. That may seem unfair, but who ever said life had to be fair? A large percentage of the time it isn't. The reality is that all of life is a process of negotiation. Anyone who is married knows that a lot of negotiation goes on in the best of marriages. Teenagers negotiate for use of the family car or for extra spending money. Why should the world of business be any different? In the corporate world, annual budgets, profit plans, and the goals and objectives against which careers are measured are the result of a negotiation. Perhaps the negotiation took place in some remote board meeting or at corporate headquarters, but you can be sure it occurred somewhere. The prudent thing to do is to become an effective negotiator. Negotiation is a learned skill. Some people are naturally better at it than others, but everyone can benefit by learning the principles of good negotiation. Reading one of many good books on negotiation is one way to learn. A far better way is to attend a negotiation-training workshop where role-playing is used. (Chester Karrass has been conducting Effective Negotiating seminars for years.) For starters, here are a few tips: Aim high -- The more you ask for, the more you'll get -- unless your demands are totally unreasonable. Make a list of your goals and set them high, but leave some room for concessions. Do your homework -- Whoever is best prepared has a big advantage. Study your opponent along with the background material, and evaluate the possible options -- both yours and theirs. What are the opponent's aspirations, fears, desires? What are yours? Calculate several possible economic outcomes so there is no guessing at the numbers. Know and control the deadlines -- Deadlines can work for you or against you. Know yours and your opponent's and manage them. Make yours as flexible as possible. Avoid hasty conclusions just so you can catch an evening flight -- you'll not only lose, but you may miss the flight, too! Try not to make the first concession -- Whoever makes the first one usually gives away more. Make concessions small, and make them slowly -- and force the opponent to earn them with lots of persuasion. Never make a concession without getting something in return. Be prepared to walk away -- Sometimes the desired outcome is just not achievable. So unless you have to make a deal, know that you can walk away. Document what you agree on -- Be sure to go over the key points carefully to avoid "informed misunderstandings" -- situations where you know that you really have not agreed but neither side wants to admit it. You should offer to write the agreement. This will give you a lot more control over how it is worded. Three final admonitions: 1. Make sure the person you are negotiating with has the authority to commit to what you want. If he or she doesn't, don't negotiate. In this situation the other person will take whatever you give but without committing to what you want. Discuss as little as possible until the person who has the authority to make the desired commitment is present. 2. When in doubt, shut up. No one ever made a concession or gave away valuable information when they weren't talking. The Russians were legendary negotiators because they simply wouldn't talk much. American negotiators kept giving away concessions -- and lots of valuable information -- as they tried to fill the silence. 3. Never assume your opponent doesn't understand English. Although many Americans aren't multilingual, English is taught as a required language in most other countries. Therefore, your international negotiating opponents are likely to understand -- even if they choose to use interpreters. You'll improve your chances for business success if you take the time to learn negotiating skills. And always remember: You often get not what you deserve, but what you negotiate. John Mariotti, a former manufacturing CEO, is president of The Enterprise Group, a consulting business. He lives in Knoxville. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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