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Improving negotiation skills

We all know the feeling. After a hard negotiation we make the deal, put down the money, and feel excitement and relief that the bargaining is over . . . and then the doubts creep in. Did I get everything I could have?

People management issues with Robert Mandeya

The truth is, it is very hard to know after we complete a negotiation exactly how we did. To be successful in negotiation, it is best to walk in prepared, you can work on the fly in minor negotiations, but preparation gives you the information and confidence to think on your feet and to tap your creativity and to be at ease during your conversation.

Being a negotiator

Most coaching around being a successful negotiator focusses on preparations before discussions start, and on strategies during the talks. The problem: We do not spend nearly enough time after the negotiations to grade our performance and learn from the experience. Most teaching around being a successful negotiator focusses on preparations before discussions start and on strategies during the talks. The problem:

We do not spend nearly enough time after the negotiations to grade our performance and learn from the experience. Negotiation is not a pretty new experience in our lives. We often do negotiations in lobola proceedings in the villages or urban centres.

In his book, The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World, Wheeler gave readers concrete strategies for dispelling some of the challenges of negotiation in order to be more successful. But even as he watched people use the book, they still expressed constant doubts about how well they were performing.

With that in mind, Wheeler conceived of a new mobile app, Negotiation 360, which would supplement books and training courses to help people track their own negotiating experience. “A book is very linear,” he says.
Negotiation 360, by contrast, “is a template or matrix a user can make his or her own. It becomes their negotiating buddy”.

Knowing people’s styles

Just knowing which style a person falls into can help him or her to understand which skills to work on — as well as the range of ways in which an opponent might approach the situation. Assertive value-creators, for example, tend to be good at declaring their own needs in negotiation, but less effective in understanding the motivations of others around the table.

They also tend to be maximisers — a term put forth by Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, meaning they are always driving to win the best deal and are rarely satisfied no matter how much they get. That attitude is contrasted with “empathetic value-creators” who are good at understanding others’ needs and creatively forging compromises. In Schwartz terminology, they tend to be “satisfiers” who are generally content with the outcome of a negotiation that meets basic criteria, even if it leaves money on the table they could have claimed. In an ideal world, we all want to be maximisers as we negotiate, creating the most value we can and then, when it is all over, flip on the satisfier button and bliss out, but it is not always easy.

Self-assessment tools

In coaching programmes for improving negotiation skills there are some self-assessment tools coaches can use for their clients. Once the self-assessment is completed, users unlock a negotiation scorecard that they can use to track their progress in negotiations and work on developing specific skills, deepening areas where they may already be confident and making up for weaker areas.

For each negotiation, they are given an opportunity to score how well they think they did, as well as the lessons learned and what they would do differently. This record can help people see patterns to help them improve, rather than starting fresh each time. Even small changes, research has shown, can mean the difference between a negotiation that succeeds and one that fails. Even improving skills by 5 or 10% means some deals that would previously lead to stalemate could now be solved. Often, the line between deadlock and agreement can be very thin.

Learning from past

On the other hand, negotiations that would have already been successful could be made even better through the benefit of learning from the past. If you have someone who through training or some other means is methodical and structured about keeping track of their negotiation experience meeting up with someone without past experience could be a nightmare.

By gradually gaining confidence in their abilities, people can also begin to get a sense of what is within their control and what is not. Basically you cannot control whether the person across the table has had a bad day, but if you put your attention on the skills that are tested in the coaching sessions, that is something positive you can do. As opposed to having negotiation be something that happens to you, you can affirmatively act upon that self-knowledge.

After all, much of the challenges of negotiation are due to the fact that we can never completely know the mind of the other person with whom we are negotiating. We don’t know how far they are willing to go, or how much they are willing to give. Until someone creates an app for mind-reading, however, that will never change. The best we can do is to learn to understand our own mind and gradually improving our ability to get what we want — and be happy with what we get.

Conflict resolution
Sometimes we enter into a negotiation feeling like we are at a disadvantage. Our bargaining partner may want more than we can give, or we fear that what we ask for might get rejected.
It can be tough in these negotiations, especially since some bargainers perceive all negotiation as conflict instead of a conversation. So we develop strategies for easing our fear. These strategies are styles, or ingrained responses to conflict; they are part of our DNA or subconscious. In business and in life, these strategies can get in the way of our ability to produce the outcomes we want in negotiation
Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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