When we hear the term ‘negotiation’ we often imagine a heated debate between executives around a board room table. Or the frightening conversation with our boss about the pay rise we know we deserve. Or winning a sales deal by skilfully bringing a client to a buying decision. These are all typical situations, but negotiation is so much more. In fact, all of us negotiate all the time.
Negotiation is a process whereby parties with differing needs and objectives reach a mutually acceptable solution. We don’t just negotiate in our professional lives; we also negotiate with our children, our partners, our friends and families. How often do you debate when making decisions; what you spend money on as a family, or convincing your children to eat vegetables or to go to bed?
Your Currency when Negotiating
Think about what you negotiate on at work. It’s not always about winning a deal or money. Everything you either need or want (or both) is your currency of negotiation. For example, we constantly negotiate time and resources, airtime in a meeting or decision-making power in a project. So, the question is, how can we become better negotiators for all situations where we want to reach a win-win solution or simply have it our way?
‘Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.’ – John F. Kennedy
I am working with a team leader in the banking industry, Annie (not her real name) who is new in her role. Annie has inherited a performing team, but the organisation has restructured, and they merged two roles into one, which has resulted in her managing twice the number of projects she used to handle. Her days are an endless string of online meetings and it is clear that she is under-resourced and time-poor.
Annie’s challenge is to convince her manager that, in order to lead all projects strategically, she needs to carve out time in her calendar for some deep work. The only way she can achieve that is to hire two senior managers to help her lead some of the ongoing projects. Annie knows there is budget available, but her boss is not forthcoming in offering help and she fears that he won’t approve the headcount.
Negotiation Starts with Mindset
Negotiating has a bad connotation because it causes conflict and for many people it feels uncomfortable. We negotiate because of differing needs and the more important the need, the higher the stakes and, in turn, the stronger the fear. Here is the problem. When we are afraid of negotiating, we actually make it about ourselves, whereas negotiation is all about our counterpart, the ‘dance of the two parties.’
‘One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.’ – Nelson Mandela
Understanding that negotiation is simply discussing differing needs rather than someone trying to manipulate us is a good start. Learning to make it about our counterpart, detecting their natural negotiation style and then using the right techniques and communication is what makes negotiation easy and successful.
The Three Styles of Negotiation
Humans have a preferred natural style of behaving, reacting and communicating, especially when under pressure. Some people are fast and intuitive. Others are more moderate in pace and considered in decision making. People also have different natural priorities. Some are focused on facts and logic, and others rely on emotions and focus on people in their decision-making process. This natural high preference also determines how people negotiate.
There are three main styles of how people naturally prefer to negotiate:
1 Competing Negotiation Style
How people show up:
Decisions are predominantly made fast and intuitively and are logic and facts based. People with a competing negotiation style typically show up confident with brief and concise communication, assertive body language and a louder voice. They are results and outcome-oriented and tend to focus on their own goals. They love winning, and for them, time is money. Relationships are based on respect, and for them, silence means they can talk some more.
How to negotiate with a competing style:
Because they like a bit of competition and want to compete with you to win, make them feel they are in control and find the ‘win’. Competitors like to be heard. Be candid and solution focussed. Labelling a negative in advance works well with Competitors, e.g. ‘I really stuffed this up…’ or ‘You must think this is unfair…’. The relationship is based on respect so make sure you show them you understand their goals. But it usually doesn’t go beyond the ‘deal’ so don’t waste your energy on lengthy relationship building. Instead, get to the point quickly. Be careful with concessions; if you give them an inch, they might take a mile.
2 Accommodating Negotiation Style
How people show up:
Decisions are predominantly made fast and intuitively and Accommodators are emotion and people focussed. People with an accommodating negotiation style are typically social and chatty, optimistic and enthusiastic. Being recognised is important to them and they tend to avoid conflict. I call this style ‘accommodating’ because they are more likely after a win/win solution that works for both parties. Collaboration is a priority and time is free-flowing. Relationship building is vital, as is their relationship with you after the event.
How to negotiate with competing style:
Start with a focus on building a genuine relationship. Ask open questions and show an interest in getting to know your counterpart as a person. Feel free to ask questions about their personal life, family etc. Don’t jump straight to finding a solution. Because Accommodators want to collaborate, make sure you offer different options with win/win solutions in mind. As relationships are a priority, make your counterpart feel safe and recognised. Empathy and harmony go a long way with Accommodators. The tricky bit is to uncover objections that, as we know, are buying signals. Accommodators are not forthcoming with objections, and you could end up in lengthy small talk without getting to a solution or decision because underlying objections are still in the way. Use calibrated questions to move your counterpart along and translate their talk into action.
3 Reasoning Negotiation Style
How people show up:
Decisions are predominantly made in a considered way and at a moderate pace. Reasoners want to get it right, no matter how long it takes. Decisions are primarily based on facts and logic. People with a reasoning negotiation style are often more reserved and have a softer and quieter voice. They are slower in pace and are usually not in a rush. They like working on their own, and considering other people or their emotions is not a priority. You will observe precision, an eye for detail and minimising mistakes is a priority. Reasoners rarely deviate from their goals, and they hate surprises. Finding the right solutions is their priority.
How to negotiate with reasoning style:
People with this negotiation style want to reason with you, so use facts, data, research or numbers to validate your arguments or to disagree. Focus on the consequences decisions and solutions will have and use these for your arguments. Apologies or labeling a negative in advance doesn’t work well with Reasoners as their decision-making is more fact-based than emotion-based. Don’t ask too many questions, especially in the beginning and keep the conversation light and focussed on facts. Open questions work well but avoid calibrated questions and give them time to reply. Use pauses well as silence means for Reasoners they have time to think. When bargaining, keep in mind that concessions are a new piece of information for Reasoners so the process will take longer, and they might even need to walk away and think it over again.
There are all kinds of negotiation techniques like using calibrated questions, mirroring (repeating the last three words of your counterpart), labeling emotions etc., but they only work if you know where they work. That largely depends on the negotiation style of your counterpart.
Annie’s boss is a Reasoner, whereas she is an Accommodator when it comes to negotiation styles. We used the negotiation style framework for her to determine his natural behaviour style and what that looks like as opposed to her. Once it was clear that he needed her to reason with him about why the additional headcount was needed and give him time to think it through, she had his agreement. Annie put together a detailed strategic business plan that compared project delivery with the current headcount and the outcome with two additional consultants. She had input from two other departments to back up her data reasoning and sent the plan to him with ample time to digest before asking for a meeting to discuss. She had his ok before they even met in person because the numbers spoke for themselves.
So next time you are preparing for a negotiation conversation, remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them and understanding their negotiation style, situation and context. Will they be competing or reasoning with you or accommodate you?
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