Successful negotiation skills can be the difference between completing a deal or losing out to a competitor. Dr R K Powar explains key skills to use the next time you’re trying to secure a key contract.
Negotiation is the means by which a discussion takes place with a viewpoint of producing an agreement. Negotiations, whether between individuals or groups, are essentially a process whereby parties relevant to the negotiation come to an agreed outcome that should hopefully best serve everyone’s interest. Negotiation is regarded as a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution.
It takes place every single day in almost every facet of our lives, from friends finding a suitable time to meet for coffee, in marriages and parenting, to companies negotiating on working time agreements, and on trying to agree the price when purchasing a car.
Negotiation is an inter-personal process which is influenced by each party’s skill, attitude and style. Negotiation requires calmness: the focusing on issues rather than personalities with the outcome often pre-determined by the attitude one has before entering the negotiation process. It is worth noting here that every negotiation situation is different.
Negotiation is not about one party dominating or imposing power on the other. Instead, it can be used as an opportunity to build trust which can be used to help to forge relationships for all concerned. Negotiation is not about arguing and proving the other person to be wrong, or a ‘winning at all costs’ or a blaming exercise. It is also worth highlighting that negotiating differs from ‘influencing’ and group decision making.
At times, because there is uncertainty on what might be the outcome of the discussions, negotiations have unpleasant feelings attached to them; for some it feels like a chore, and in the worse case scenario a conflict.
A PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE
Practical negotiation skills
The negotiation process is one that is complex and needs a lot of care, both before and during discussions. When negotiating the proposal or suggestion this works best if it offers a win-win solution where both parties involved do not feel hard done by. The negotiating process should begin by having an understanding of the person one is negotiating with, requiring an understanding of their needs and interests. A style then needs to be adopted whereby the other person is made to feel valued, understood and appreciated rather than belittled or dismissed – please refer to Management skills: getting the best from others in the July 2010 edition of Pharmaceutical Field. One also needs to be mindful of the external factors such as the background, culture and politics.
One of the main characteristics of negotiation is that the parties involved in the process feel satisfied that an appropriate deal has been achieved. The deal does not need to be the one with the best possible outcome, but one that all parties are happy to agree to and is realistic. Therefore, from the onset it is important to know what you want, but equally what the other party requires as well. For this to happen good listening is required with empathy to the other party’s concerns rather than objections, the willingness to compromise and accommodate, and taking the stance of building relationships helps.
It is important to be fair. Only then can a win-win situation be achieved. Work out if what it is you’re asking for is fair and justifiable and that you deserve what it is you’re asking for. If you’re asking for something and don’t believe you deserve it yourself, it may be very hard to convince the other party.
In all negotiation processes parties have various variables they can employ. Some of these cannot be compromised on, i.e. the must haves. Some are ideals and some can be traded to get the outcome desired. Therefore, in the example of a Key Opinion Leader meeting being organised, they might be the must have, a certain venue the ideal, and the day of the meeting is carried out as the trading variable.
Silence is a very powerful tool. Often underestimated for its potential it is one of the most powerful tactics in persuading others. At a practical level this means keeping silent after a request has been made during the negotiation. On most occasions in the negotiation process after a request is made it is helpful to keep quiet – as in most cases the request will be met – but all too often people keep speaking to justify their request which in turn leaves the other person less inclined to help.
It helps if one has alternatives in case what you want from a situation is not achieved or achievable. It is worth mentioning an alternative that both parties could agree if the initial plans are not going as hoped.
Accommodating: in this style a greater importance is made on preserving relationships and solving the other party’s issues. Accommodators tend to be sensitive and pick up on the verbal signs of other parties. The negative side of this style is that they feel taken advantage of, especially in cases where the other parties pay little importance to relationships.
Avoiding: in this case negotiation only happens when it has to. When it finally does happen, negotiators tend to defer the confrontational aspects of negotiating, yet on the surface appear to be tactful and diplomatic.
Collaborating: individuals that tend to enjoy negotiations and solving problems in a creative manner prefer this style. Collaborators are good at using negotiations to understand the concerns and interests of the other parties. Their downfall is that they at times turn simple situations into complex ones.
Competing: competing negotiators are strategic focusing on usually the winning element. They are often perceived as dominating with little if any importance on the human side of the relationship.
Compromising: compromisers tend to do what is right and fair for all the parties involved in the negotiation process and want to close the deal. The downfall here is that they tend to rush the negotiation process and make concessions quickly.
The negotiation situation
It is important to understand the situation in which you are negotiating in. For example, negotiating a time to meet with a friend is very different to negotiating in a business environment. In the former, one is more knowledgeable of the needs of both parties and hopefully there is a good understanding of each other and more than likely the negotiation is going to be more informal.
In the case of negotiating in the business and work situation, it would be important to know one’s position and rights and where possible an understanding of the other parties’ negotiating style. As well as keeping positive, staying calm and being reasonable sometimes can be helpful in getting the advice from an expert on the subject area before negotiating. In the work situation it would be helpful to think politically and get the outcome confirmed in writing.
The right time
Finding the right time when to negotiate can play a major role on the outcome. For example, it would be a bad start to try to negotiate when either party was tired, angry, stressed or pre-occupied.
AN ACADEMIC VIEWPOINT
Roger Fisher and William Ury, members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, focused on the psychology of negotiations finding an acceptable compromise by determining which needs are fixed and which are flexible.
In their work the success of an agreement is essentially judged by three criteria that are: the agreement should be a wise one; if an agreement is possible, it should be efficient; and, it should improve the relationship between parties, or at best not damage the relationship.
Fisher and Ury in their 1981 book Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in argue that their method can be used virtually in any situation, and the four steps of principled negotiations are:
1. Separate the people from the problem
2. Focus on interests not positions
3. Invent options for mutual gain
4. Insist on using objective criteria
The main theme is that all negotiators should adopt the view that they are problem solvers rather than adversaries, with the aim being to reach an outcome “efficiently and amicably”.
Fisher and Ury stress that when adhering to the above points it should offer a successful outcome. Negotiation can be difficult because the negotiators may have very differing negotiation styles – as listed above. The authors conclude with three main points to consider:
1. What goes on in principled negotiations is common sense, i.e. “You knew it all the time”.
2. Like in everything else, to be a better negotiator one needs practise, i.e. “Learn from doing and mistakes”.
3. Winning: “to win in the context of a better way to negotiate in achieving the aim of what you want and also negotiating decently”.
A prescriptive solution cannot be offered that would be suitable in all negotiations, and whilst there are commonalities across negotiations, each one is different. It would be helpful to be mindful of the process and negotiation styles mentioned above. However, because of the variables that could be involved at any given time in a negotiation, the greatest skill would be to have a grasp of the situation in the moment and adapt as appropriate.
Dr R K Powar has over ten years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry and provides a range of tailored programmes to develop staff to help an organisation improve on their Softer Ss skill base. Dr Powar can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07962 342 140. For further information visit