Negotiating skills come into play whenever we are contact with others, whether professionally, personally or socially. Improving these skills allows us to be at our best in order to achieve successful mutual outcomes.
The three main keys to success are effective handling of ourselves, handling of others and dealing with the problem.
Let's look at each of these in turn:
1. Effective handling of ourselves
We need to carefully monitor ourselves to make sure that we remain in control of our emotions. This will allow our rational mind to be accessible for solving problems, thinking clearly and retaining objectivity. ‘Emotions make us stupid’, as American psychologist Daniel Goleman famously said. You will be able to recognise the warning signs of becoming more emotionally aroused: faster breathing, rising anxiety, a higher or strained voice.
Once such signs have been recognised, we need to take suitable steps to calm ourselves down using the 7/11 breathing technique, as featured in the ‘Managing Stress and Anxiety at Work’ article from the December 2009 edition of the journal. This is one of the best methods of calming the body and mind quickly without anyone else recognising what you are doing. Alternative strategies would be doing some sort of physical activity, like a walk, or taking time out so that we can design a better approach. Remembering times when we have been confident and resourceful in the past will help to prime the brain to use those beneficial memories and react in a positive way. Generally, what we focus on is what we get.
2. Effective handling of others
The other person(s) involved in the negotiation may well be experiencing difficulties with their own emotional arousal. As you are the one who is calm and assured, it becomes your job to manage their emotional state well in order to achieve the desired outcome. Some people become very difficult to deal with in these situations, and some simple tools will help: building a good rapport with them, identifying their needs and interests, being assertive, and keeping flexibility in your approach and language. We may expect people to hold particular views or beliefs about a problem, but until we identify their actual thoughts, we don’t have enough information to work with effectively. Paraphrasing what the other person has said in order to check your understanding of their position increases understanding and validates their position in terms of what they have said so they feel heard and understood without your having to agree with them. It also means that you have the best chance of gathering the information you need to generate a good solution.
If the other person appears difficult or obstructive, take care to separate that person’s behaviour from the person’s identity so you can deal with the actual problem itself. Their behaviour may not be helping, but the real point to tackle is the problem. The more you engage them by asking questions, paraphrasing and maintaining rapport, the more you will engage their rational thinking brain and help to lower their emotional arousal, which gives the best chance to achieve a successful outcome.
3. Effectively dealing with the problem
Regard the outcome to the problem positively and aim to make the solution a shared goal. This is where flexibility comes into its own. ‘How else might we address this?’ and other open questions support that flexibility and show genuine sincerity in wanting to achieve a positive outcome. When you have agreed a solution, make sure it is specific, even if it is to discuss it again at another time in more detail to avoid misunderstanding and ensure that responsibility is appropriately assigned.