The Art of Professional Negotiation

If we are angered by a situation or an issue we go into an argument rather than a cooperative conversation. The emotion we bring to the table charges the whole conversation, and perhaps, the direction of the outcome. If we are able to enter into an exchange with a positive outlook rather than a negative one, the whole process can be more rewarding. That is not to say that you will always get your way, but it goes a long way to possibly securing a more favorable end.

Negotiation is part of our everyday life - personal and professional. How we choose to "get our way" in the course of our private life is reflective of the type of person we are and sheds light on our personality. Most of us do not even realize we negotiate on a daily basis - with partners, with children, with the person holding the garage sale down the street, with the bill collector. How we deal directly affects the outcome. Not to be cliché, but the old adage "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar" rings true in negotiation situations. If your story escalates to the level of a gunman in the Worker's Compensation Board office, we have gone to another level of negotiation and that is best left to the real professionals.

The art of using communication and negotiation in a professional manner is a learned skill and it will take practice to master the tools. To be good at negotiation you must be able to think openly, communicate effectively and read personality traits and behavioral actions. You must also be able to come to an understanding on one another's needs. There are two sides and if you both relentlessly want what you want without compromise, it becomes a contest with "heels dug in" and nowhere to go. To go into a negotiation with the knowledge of your subject, a clear, concise picture of what you want, and an awareness of who your "opposition" is to have the basis for a successful professional communication process.

Consider the following points when opening a negotiation:

  1. Expand the possibility of choices for yourself by finding out and understanding what the other party wants. You may be able to negotiate this to a mutual satisfaction instead of a one-sided affair. It is important in effective communication to be a good listener.
  2. Clear, concise communication allows you to spell out your needs in a way you can present them to the other party so they can understand them. Be sincere  and true to your word. Taking a stand does not mean it is right for everyone just because it is right for you. Be able to communicate and support your point rationally and intelligently.
  3. The idea of negotiation is to arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion without harming the relationship. Burning bridges is not conducive to further amicable negotiations. If you are able to modify your needs and demonstrate flexibility in reaching a common goal, there will be a mutual respect for each other's objectives. This does not mean you have to compromise or be flexible to the point of your own disadvantage. Work from the core outward, concentrating on details, determine your non-negotiable and be willing to open up to options.

Training our business leaders in "lobbying" techniques that go beyond demonstrations and protests is best approached through training effective communication and professional negotiation skills. The combination of knowing what to say and when to say it are practices we must learn considering the position and reputation we hold within a company or organization. It is part of our professional life.

It must be noted that our professional lives often involve social interactions with other business leaders, government officials or perhaps stakeholders and these are of significant value in the business world. Knowing when and where to say something, and to whom, is a fine line between acceptable and inappropriate. Experts at the University of Alberta suggest there are times when saying nothing is just as important. Respecting an official and just enjoying that round of golf goes a long way to solidifying a professional relationship IF you know how to act. Approaching a delicate subject in a social atmosphere in hopes of securing your own needs is not considered professional protocol by some. Of course, there are those occasions where many a business deal has been made on the golf course or over dinner, and therein, lies the skill. (c) Linda J. Pedley, 2010