Negotiation – Method, Magic, or Just a Knack?

Every day of our lives we are negotiating. From the cries of a newborn baby negotiating its first feed to the wiles of a newborn retiree bargaining the deal on that coveted motor-home, we are never too far from the challenge of reaching agreement on something. It just happens to be one of those everyday things we do. In many cases, it involves no more than our natural instincts.

In business however, it takes on a very different perspective. At every level of management, negotiating is an important part of the job. For those of us involved in dedicated buying and selling roles, it is our job! Above all else, our negotiating ability is the one skill that can set us apart; it can mean the difference between a very successful and a very ordinary career.

Popular opinion tells us that it must be more than just a special birthright too. Although a dose of charisma certainly goes a long way, truly high-performance negotiators only get to the top through learning, practice, and a lot of dedication. That’s right, professional negotiators aren’t born, nor are they delivered by the stork wrapped up in a ready-made deal sheet. They need to do the hard yards. If they are to be successful, they need to invest whatever time and energy it takes to get there.

But as always, there are two sides to the story. There are probably just as many non-believers out there. For everyone who accepts that negotiating expertise is a method that can be systematically taught, it seems there is another who remains adamant that there is no such formula. Instead, they believe that the ability to persuade others is the domain of the chosen few, those who were born with a genetic gift – some sort of persuasive magic. It poses the question… METHOD or MAGIC?

In my live training sessions, I use a simple chart to present a four-part model in search of the answer. The first two are the ‘understanding’ factors. These are the variables – the specific things we need to understand about the particular negotiation at hand… for example, what we need to know about the nature of the proposition to determine the style of our negotiation, and what we need to understand about the range of likely outcomes to determine the steps in the process. I guess this represents the ‘method’ involved.

The ‘Understanding’ Factors (preparing the proposition for the people):

Style – preparing the information, doing the homework

Process – preparing the steps, determining the strategy

The second two are the essential communications ‘skill’ sets. These are the constants – those interpersonal tools of ours that we need to keep sharp and ready to roll out in any negotiation… for example, our ability to intuitively read and deal with the people and relationship issues, and to effectively employ the appropriate interactive selling and presentation techniques. I guess this is the ‘magic’ component.

The ‘Skill’ Factors (preparing the people for the proposition):

Relationships – the people skills

Presentation – the dialogue skills

As we work our way through each of these quadrants via a case study or two, it very quickly unfolds that to be good at this business of negotiating, we need to accept that there is both method and magic involved, and that we need to get both right.

Yes, if you are to genuinely acquire this so-called knack of negotiating, there is no short cut. The right combination – this fastidious blend of homework and footwork – is your only answer… and, and if you’re to be consistent with it, you’ll need to work hard at honing your skills. You can be sure that whoever sits across the table from you is working on theirs.

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