Many of us believe in a false dichotomy about negotiations: either you have to be really tough, or you’re a pushover. Recently, our Rhythm Systems team all took Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment and had a team building day where we talked about our strengths and how we prefer to work together. None of my top 5 strengths are “influencing” strengths, so negotiations are certainly not a comfortable place for me. I’m far more comfortable with relationship-building than persuading. So, I was glad to read Carolyn O’Hara’s HBR article, "How to Negotiate Nicely Without Being a Pushover."
Here are 6 Tips to Negotiate Successfully AND Nicely:
- 1. Don’t focus on winning and losing: If you set up the expectation that there’s a winner and a loser, you’re setting someone up for failure. Rather, O’Hara recommends that you “frame the negotiations as a problem-solving challenge.” Instead of looking for ways to beat the other side, think about creative ways to make a win-win.
- 2. Be polite: Make small talk. Spending a few minutes chatting about something else might help you gather some important insights about the people you are negotiating with. Seeing them as people rather than opponents can help you build trust and understand their motives. Small talk will “build connections you can leverage later on.”
- 3. Focus on what you have in common. In Crucial Conversations, they call this “inventing a mutual purpose.” Even if you ultimately have different goals in the negotiation, find some common ground and focus on areas where you do agree. Remember the win-win, creative solution you are working on. O’Hara recommends using “words like ‘we’ to signal you are invested in the relationship.”
- 4. Don’t be afraid to push back respectfully. As O’Hara says, don’t “reflexively cave on issues because you think it’ll win you favor.” In reality, you’ve just shown the other side that you are willing to give in to avoid confrontation, which might temporarily save the relationship but doesn’t create trust or respect in the long-term. You can be professional and non-combative and hold your ground.
- 5. Find out why. Ask the other side what they are hoping to get out of the negotiations, and go a step further to ask why that’s what they want. Understanding why they want something will help you in your creative problem-solving. You might be able to satisfy the why with a “what” that also gives you what you want.
- 6. See the issue from all sides. As O’Hara says, “don’t mistake impact for intent.” Consider that the other side likely is facing pressure that limits their ability to be flexible in the negotiations. If the other side isn’t bending, it may not be a character flaw, it could be that their budget has been cut or they’re facing supply-chain issues. O’Hara recommends preparing for the negotiation by doing some research that might help you understand where the other side is coming from and the challenges they may have to work around.
Next time you are facing an important business negotiation, I hope these tips can help you maintain the relationship and still get what you need.
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