Top tips on Negotiation Skills

Improving your negotiation skills

Negotiation is a conversation between two or more people, with the intent of coming to a mutually agreed solution while avoiding arguments and disputes.

What are the benefits of negotiation?

  • Enables goals and objectives to be achieved efficiently
  • Develops and improves relationships
  • Supports effective conflict management
  • Improves communications skills

There can be many reasons why you may need to negotiate during your apprenticeship. Depending on your role, there may be different situations that could arise such as dealing with customer disputes, when working in a team, setting up contracts with customers or when managing conflict.

Effective negotiation

The effectiveness of the negotiation process depends on a number of factors between both parties, for example, between you and your line manager, including:

  • Your goals and interests
  • The history that exists between you both
  • Your personalities
  • Your persuasive abilities
  • The negotiation skills that you have

When preparing for negotiation, it is best to find out as much of this information as you can as it will help you in the process. Knowing who you will be talking to and their level of experience can really help you understand the task at hand, especially if you haven’t had that much experience yourself.

Principles of negotiation

It is important to follow these ‘rules’ so that the best possible outcome will be achieved:

  • Know when to negotiate and when to walk away – if the conversation is getting out of hand, then you know it’s time to leave
  • Negotiate for outcome not ego – don’t go into a situation with the mentality of ‘me’ or ‘I’, look at the bigger picture
  • Negotiate issues not personalities – focus on the issues at hand and not on the personal characteristics of the other person
  • Ask questions rather than make statements – for example, “How would you feel if…” rather than “I want…”
  • Use your strengths and manage your weaknesses – a key skill is being able to identify your strengths and weaknesses in this situation
  • Attract rather than chase – don’t look desperate and don’t chase for an outcome
  • Break complicated issues into simple elements and then negotiate the elements – it is easier to negotiate a group of small, simple ideas rather than the full issue all at once

Skills and behaviours

To become a good negotiator, there are some skills and behaviours that you should aim to improve to help you feel confident in a negotiation situation:

  • Sensible – a good negotiator must react reasonably
  • Confident – you need to be confident enough for an effective negotiation
  • Dignified – remember it is just a discussion, not a battle field
  • Communication – be very clear, don’t play with words or try to confuse others
  • Good listener – don’t jump to conclusions; instead listen to what the other party offers
  • Reasonable – don’t quote anything just for the sake of it

There are four phases of negotiation: preparation, opening phase, bargaining phase, and closing phase.

Preparation phase

Ask yourself what do you want to achieve? The main aim of a negotiation is to come to a mutually agreed solution but that might not always be possible. Do you know what you would be willing to accept in terms of an answer? You have to be prepared for any objections that may be thrown your way, so perhaps think about what the other person might say or want.

Opening phase

The opening phase of a negotiation involves both sides presenting their starting positions to one another. It is important to set some ground rules in order for the meeting to go smoothly and to end with the best possible outcome. Make sure that:

  • Only one person speaks at a time
  • You both make a commitment to listen to one another, and to try to understand the other person’s point of view before responding
  • Whatever is discussed must be kept in confidence, unless there is an agreement regarding who needs to know further information

Bargaining phase

In the bargaining phase, the aim is to narrow the gap between the two starting positions and move towards a solution – hopefully one that works in your favour!

As an apprentice, these actions can help make sure that a solution is achieved:

  • You must agree to aim for a win-win outcome
  • Identify the problems initially, rather than solutions
  • Develop mutual respect and trust
  • Avoid defensive stances as it is easy to become aggressive

There are five different styles that you can adapt when negotiating:

  • The Shark – competing – believes that their overall goals are of high importance and that the relationship with the other party is of low importance
  • The Fox – compromising – sees both the relationship and the goals as equal
  • The Turtle – avoiding – will see both the goals and the relationship as low importance
  • The Teddy Bear – harmonising – feels that the relationship is far more important than the overall goal
  • The Owl – collaborating – sees both the relationship and the goals as very important

Which style of negotiation do you think that you are? Do you shy away from these situations or do you know exactly what you want, so you aim to get it?

Closing phase

The closing phase of a negotiation represents the opportunity to make the most of all of the work done in the earlier phases.

It is important to ask yourself if the agreement is fair and that all parties feel the decision was reasonable. Are the action steps realistic? Do you have the skills and time to follow-through and implement this agreement? A negotiation is two sided so make sure that your other party understands what they need to do and when they need to do it for.

Negotiation is a great skill to have, so practicing and putting yourself in to those situations will help you build your confidence and abilities to negotiate effectively. If things don’t always go to plan, that’s okay, that’s what negotiation is all about.

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