Best practice

Since it's your business results we'll be helping to improve, it’s your business we’ll tailor our approach to. No matter what business issues you face, our research shows that some negotiation skills are fundamental to success. Here are our negotiation tips for success:

1. Achieving a win-win outcome

Preparing for a negotiation by collecting data is standard practice. Rightly so, but planning how you’ll use this data during your negotiation is crucial.

Our research shows that both skilled and average negotiators spend roughly the same amount of time planning for their negotiations.

  • But how they used their planning time was different. Average negotiators spent more time thinking about "what" they wanted, while their skilled counterparts spent longer considering "how" they would get what they wanted.

Skilled negotiators spend more time considering common ground (areas of anticipated agreement) and how to use it in the negotiation.

  • While both skilled and average negotiators were concerned about areas of potential conflict, the more skilled also considered areas that weren’t likely to be contentious, where agreement was likely. They then considered how and when these areas of common ground should be introduced into the negotiation. Clever use of common ground can help promote a positive atmosphere and create movement to help deal with difficult issues.

Too many negotiators assume that logic is persuasive, basing their approach on data they’ve collected to support their arguments.

      • Skilled negotiators recognise that what might be logical to one person may not be to another. They spend time developing a trading strategy, thinking creatively about options that might create agreement and planning questions to explore the other party's position.

2. Best behaviour for successful relationships when negotiating

Knowing how to maintain a positive climate, resolve stalemate and defuse difficult situations can mean the difference between success and failure.

Skilled negotiators ask twice as many questions as average negotiators.

  • Skilled negotiators are very keen to understand the other party's position and explore all possible options for reaching a successful agreement. They ask questions to discover the reasons why positions have been taken, to seek proposals from the other party and to gauge reactions to proposals they’ve made themselves.

Skilled negotiators tend not to say "no" directly.

  • Instead of saying "No I can't agree to that because of X", skilled negotiators say, "If we do that, how will we deal with the problem of X?" Rather than "A 20% price increase is impossible", they are likely to say, "Are you really asking me to pay 20% more in the present climate?" This use of questions as an alternative to a direct "no" can help prevent conflict and generate further discussion, which might help to resolve the problem.

Skilled negotiators are twice as likely to test their understanding of what the other party has said than their average counterparts.

  • Skilled negotiators are very keen to ensure there is total clarity about what’s been said or what’s been agreed. They use phrases such as "Can I just clarify, when you say X do you mean …?" or "When you say you can't accept X, do you mean all of X or is it possible to move on some elements of it?" As a result, skilled negotiators reach agreements that have a much stronger track record of being implemented successfully.

3. Creative bargaining to create value

Compromise may satisfy, but effective bargaining can offer more to both parties than they’d otherwise attain.

On average, skilled negotiators explore five options for every discussion point.

  • Skilled people are more likely to look for creative options to help them reach agreement and add greater value to the deal for both parties.

Skilled negotiators trade concessions for things they want. Average negotiators are more likely to just make concessions to win the business.

  • Skilled people identify areas where they can make concessions, which have low cost to them, but high value to the other party. They then trade these for the issues of high value to themselves. As a consequence, they are more likely to win business on better terms than their average rivals.

Skilled negotiators don't leave the most difficult issues until last.

  • There’s a real risk that if the most difficult issue is left until last, all the lesser issues that could’ve been traded, will have been agreed. With nothing to trade, creating movement on the difficult issue becomes harder, making it more likely the negotiation will end in deadlock, or that concessions will be made that damage the value of the agreement.

4. Effective processes for agreeing mandates

If the mandate is unclear, or worse, unworkable, one thing is clear – in the long run everyone loses

Many delegates on our negotiation programmes tell us that getting an internal mandate allowing them to trade effectively is one of the biggest problems they face.

  • Skilled negotiators recognise that reaching successful agreements requires room to manoeuvre. They know it’s impossible to negotiate if they’re not allowed to move on any of the issues. They spend time agreeing the lowest position they can move to, while still making an acceptable agreement. However, they also recognise that those who aim high tend to do better in their deals, so they also explore the highest demands they think they can make that’ll still enable them to reach agreement with the other party.

Skilled negotiators use questions to explore possible options and achieve greater flexibility in the actual negotiations.

  • Getting a mandate for a negotiation usually means gaining agreement from superiors and senior managers of any other departments involved. This often means negotiators aren’t in a position to make demands, but need to persuade or influence their senior colleagues to achieve the freedom they need. Asking questions that help their colleagues explore issues, as well as the scope for movement, is an effective persuasion strategy in these situations.

The difficulty of "selling back" agreements made with customers to gain internal commitment on deliverables agreed during a negotiation is often caused by a lack of clarity about the mandate agreed before the negotiations took place.

  • Skilled people spend far more time testing understanding to check that what people are saying at meetings is clearly understood. They frequently summarise to ensure agreements are captured and tied down, minimising the chance of misunderstandings. These behaviours are not only essential for ensuring clarity in mandate meetings; they are a key skill used by successful negotiators in their negotiations with customers too.

Our training solutions are based on the principle that delegates learn best by doing and reviewing. Skills are introduced gradually, interspersed with simulated negotiations and then followed by detailed review and feedback sessions for maximum skills development.