We are often asked to give advice to people starting on their career journey or wanting to advance to senior leadership roles. In this article we focus on the art of negotiation, something that, in our opinion, does not get enough attention and focus in career progression.
In some cultures, negotiating experience begins at a very young age; purchasing vegetables from a local market involves a protracted back and forth debate to reach a price. In other cultures, such as Europe and North America, list prices have become accepted and are often not challenged. Asking for a ‘deal’ or offering a lower price is seen as being cheeky or uncomfortable. This attitude continues into our working lives, hindering personal development and preventing organisations from achieving operational excellence. For example, when you need to add resources or equipment to a team or propose a new initiative, ineffectual negotiation can kill off great ideas very quickly. Resources are allocated to the areas that are ‘sold’ internally but often the selection process biases the salesmen, rather that the ideas.
Cultural blind spots in organisations may also be at play. If there is an unhelpful need to fit in or look good in your company, it may hinder your desire to speak up. We have seen many examples of poor decision making due to a lack of willingness to debate openly and challenge or negotiate with each other to reach a better solution.
If we know that negotiation is one of the most important skills for success, then the question becomes, “How do I get better at it?” It’s a skill that takes years to become expert at, but the good news it is something there are ample opportunities to practise in everyday life. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Do your research – This is absolutely key to any negotiation for any idea, product or service. It is also easier today that ever with the internet at our fingertips. Do your research and know the idea, product or service you are buying or selling.
- Remove time pressure – Applying time pressure is a common tactic used by salespeople to force a transaction. It is also often used in organisations to pressure decision making. Ask for more time – it allows you to ask more questions and understand the value of the negotiation in more detail.
- Practise – This seems obvious, but deliberate practise is key to success. What may be surprising is it can also be fun. An obvious example is purchasing a used car, but there are many, smaller transactions in everyday life that you can try with. Practise both buying and selling something, this is very important as the perceived power in a negotiation can be different from each perspective. The commodity you are buying or selling can be as simple as persuading your partner to visit a place for a vacation destination. Research the destination and present the reasons. This is a no pressure environment and a chance to practise.
- Walk away – The ability to walk away is very important. In the heat of the moment we often get carried away with wanting to conclude the negotiation. Know your limits and practise walking away if you are not successful. As you do this over and over again, your cues become innate – you no longer have to think about it, you feel it. This also stops you from making bad deals for yourself and your organisation.
- Learn from others – Virtually everyone knows someone who is a skilled negotiator, the person who could sell sand in Dubai or ice in the Arctic. Ask them to mentor you and teach you. Ask them to accompany you in purchasing or selling something. If you don’t know anyone, ask others to recommend someone in your organisation or network.
- Smile when you are under pressure – In some of the most stressful negotiations, the ability to stop, smile and take a step back to regain perspective can change the course of the negotiation. Simply taking a deep breath can help you to enjoy the moment and the company you are with.
There are many resources available for negotiation training. Formal training can give you the building blocks to become an effective negotiator but practise is the key to becoming skilled. Adding negotiation to your personal professional portfolio is essential, whatever your career path.
If you need further help or tips to get started, or you’re looking for a professional negotiator to help with a transaction, reach out to us on LinkedIn.
This article was co-authored by a friend of De Paoli & Associates, Samie Al-Achrafi
Samie is a leading global culture change expert, recognised for creating high performance cultures underpinned by values. He is known for his progressive learning interventions that transform organisations and embed lasting change. Born and raised in the Middle East, Samie moved to the UK and USA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was posted to Romania. Samie has a double first class degree from the University of Durham, a Master’s from City University London and has attended Harvard Business School. He has worked with leading organisations around the world such as Walt Disney World, Emirates Airline, HSBC, Merck and MSD to create alignment around purpose and deliver on ambition.