I have wanted to look at negotiation for a while – after all, we negotiate every day, and yet it’s frankly ridiculous how self-taught we are at one of the fundamental business disciplines.
As such, my last podcast conversation was with a man who is a qualified expert: Tim Green, global head of delivery at the Gap Partnership, a global negotiation consultancy working with more than 500 bluechip organisations.
Currently, many of us are having to try to make the numbers add up again, often re-cutting existing deals, re-contracting with members of our teams or even re-thinking entirely the way we work. Negotiation is clearly fundamental within that.
Getting the basics right
So what are the basic pillars of negotiation, something so many of us can still feel a bit uncomfortable about? Green described the overall process as “when two parties come together to find a mutually beneficial outcome” which surprised me a little. I’d imagined an expert in this space might have painted it as a more aggressive, confrontational discipline. That set the tone for the way he described the basic pillars of a successful negotiation.
To paraphrase Green’s thoughts briefly…
- Understand their position: Even if you don’t know your counterparty well, it should be possible to think through their priorities for the negotiation.
- Plan your position: Very few of us are smart enough to make up win/wins on the spot. Think through areas you may be prepared to flex, and those you think your counterpart may be.
- Try to be creative: If you think you and they are both likely to be willing to think outside the box, go with it.
- Practice: You wouldn’t dream of pitching for a bit project without practising first, so don’t do it when negotiating the detail of the deal when you’ve won it.
- Emotional control: Effective negotiators are able to stay in control at all times. For example, they never threaten things that they wouldn’t actually be comfortable delivering on.
In a nutshell: Effective negotiators prepare like high performing sports teams. They plan their tactics with the other team in mind, and practise how they will react in response to different situations.
Don’t believe the hype
Although he did reiterate that every situation is unique, Green did a terrific job of dispelling some myths that I have carried around in my head for years.
- ‘Never make the first move’… Green's view was that more often than not, the reverse is true. He said: “We would always advise you get your offer on the table first. It helps you get in control of the conversation from the off and has an anchoring effect.”
- 'Splitting the difference is a good way to conclude'… Green feels that often people finish negotiations in this way when they’re just keen to conclude an awkward situation that can be exploited by the other side. “You need to be careful as it’s very easy to get into the habit of not pushing as hard as you should do,” he said.
- 'Make sure nobody loses'… Green agreed with me on this one. “Don’t treat it as a competition,” he said. “Ego is a dangerous thing to enter into a negotiation.” A negotiation that finishes with two satisfied parties is unsurprisingly more likely to result in the two wanting to do business again down the line.
In a nutshell: While each negotiation is different, try to start in control, and finish by ensuring both parties walk away satisfied.
Think carefully about who leads your line
We also agreed on the danger of assuming that the best salesperson will always make the best negotiator. I’ve rarely seen a situation where that is actually true in business, any more than the best lawyer in a practice will make the best line manager or the best soccer player makes the best team captain.
Green says: “A sales process establishes the needs between two parties. But that’s very different from agreeing what the terms of the deal are actually going to look like.”
The skills required are different. Negotiation, for example, requires the ability to ask great questions, exceptional listening skills, self control under pressure and strong detail orientation. These skills are developable, and too business-critical to be left to chance.
In a nutshell: It’s easy to erode the benefit of a big deal by picking the wrong person to negotiate its detail.
Ten words or fewer
I asked Tim, as I do all guests, how they would sum up the main message from our conversation in ten words or fewer.
He managed exactly ten: “Plan properly, get inside their head, don’t try to win.”
After all, very rarely will you negotiate with someone you might not actually want to work with again someday.
Matt Rogan has spent his career creating and scaling businesses in the sports and entertainment arena.
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