Five tips for handling negotiations


The art of negotiation is nothing new, but doing it well is a learning curve for many of us.

From thinking in terms of partnership and really listening to suggesting innovative clauses and taking a leaf out of Taylor Swift’s book, here are five suggestions on how to move even the most difficult of negotiations ahead:

1. It’s not me, it’s you

Although you have a desired outcome in mind, focussing on this alone and not the other party’s needs is usually a big mistake. Good negotiators find out what the other party is thinking and how their wishes, or at least some of them, can be combined with their own needs to reap the best dividends. Think win-win rather than win-at-all-costs.

A partnership approach is the preferred stance of canny negotiators because this helps to increase understanding and achieve an outcome that everyone is happier with. A hard won negotiation that sees a supplier deliver goods or services at low cost or under less than optimum arrangements could prove unsustainable and risk supply continuity.

Being open with suppliers is a critical part of this. By helping people to understand your objectives and challenges, they’re more likely to be open too and they could easily start proposing solutions that make all the difference.

2. Lend me your ear

Listening doesn’t always come easily when most of us have a lot to say, but taking the time to hear what others have to say will bring big benefits.

It can be easy to let your mind drift when someone else is talking, or to complete their sentences for them, but active listening should be your priority, because it is likely to arm you with plenty of useful information and strengthen and improve your future relationships.

Listening helps the other party to feel respected and to build trust between you. Making sure that you have understood what the other party has said is an important part of this, so try to mirror back what they have said after they have finished speaking.

3. Go for no

 When you need to break a stalemate, get someone’s attention or enable them to respond to you more easily, the advice from ex-hostage negotiator Chris Voss is to go for an answer of no, rather than yes. He believes that a no is easier for people to say because it offers more protection than the commitment of saying yes.

Where an impasse has been reached, one question could be ‘have you given up on this project’ to which the respondent is more likely to say no and by doing so, more likely to start developing the conversation again.

4. Introduce novelty

 It may not be for everyone, but being creative in terms of acceptable outcomes if it helps to achieve stronger long term relationships and increase future business could be the answer in some scenarios.

 In what he calls the ‘steak clause’, Ryan Holmes tells of how he ended a standstill in negotiations with a vendor by suggesting that, each time a certain level of revenue was achieved, the vendor took two representatives from his business out for a steak dinner.

Although this involved his business swallowing certain contract costs that neither had  previously been prepared to accept, he believes that the regular, success based, face to face time between executives from both businesses would pay off in terms of a longer, more fruitful business relationship.

5. Take a tip from Taylor Swift

We’re not suggesting procurement professionals pop down to their nearest karaoke night to channel their inner pop self, but perhaps taking a leaf out of one musician’s book could be informative.

Pop star Taylor Swift is credited by Chris Voss for the elegant way she handled a difficult situation with Apple Music. When the company announced that it would be providing some songs free of charge to listeners for an initial three month period, at the artists’ cost, she responded with a well-written open letter explaining why she would be holding back her new album from the streaming service.

Taylor’s approach was held up as an example of how to deal with a difficult situation with empathy and understanding. She started her letter by explaining why she admired the company, showing her respect but also asserting that she did not respect their actions in this regard and calling on them to deal with artists more fairly.

Taking action in this way is more likely to reap results because it shows deference and understanding, demonstrates a willingness to work together in the future and makes its points clearly without putting the other party on the defence.

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