Negotiation: it’s all about communication… isn’t it?

Negotiation: it’s all about communication… isn’t it?

Negotiation has been called an ‘art’ and not without reason. The idea of negotiating strikes almost as much fear into the heart of the average individual as does making a presentation (although making a presentation actually ranks no. 1 on the list of most scary things to do!). However, negotiation needn’t be scary. With a little preparation, it can actually be quite a fun and rewarding experience. Here’s how.

One of the reasons that negotiating conjures up so much fear is that it is often associated with conflict. And indeed, for many people negotiation means a fight, someone wins and someone loses. While some people enjoy a good fight, most of us fear losing, especially if we are negotiating on behalf of an organisation that is paying us a salary!

Another reason we might fear negotiating is that we lack confidence in the language that the negotiation is being conducted in. We are afraid that we won’t be able to hold our own because of our inability to express ourselves fluently.

Isn’t it all about mastery of the language?

While it is true that negotiating is highly communicative and requires good communication skills, the good news is that negotiating involves a package of skills that can be learned. There are skills and techniques you can learn that can help you to become a more confident and successful negotiator, no matter your linguistic level.

Some of these skills include:

  • Preparing carefully – the more you know about the context of the negotiation globally and your counterpart’s situation, the better chance you have of coming up with creative solutions.
  • Having a strategy – Once you are informed you can carefully plan your strategy so that you have a roadmap to guide you during the negotiation.
  • Learning to ask questions (and listen to the answers!) – Negotiating isn’t only about stating your case and trying to persuade the other party to see your view. It’s at least as much about gathering information and listening carefully to what your counterparts are telling you.
  • Finding the balance between flexibility and firmness – this is actually part of the art, but with practice, you can learn to stay open to the possibilities that are created, while still holding your own and meeting your own negotiation goals.

In the end, becoming a competent negotiator is all about practice. The more you do it (particularly in a controlled situation where you get feedback), the better you get at it. If you practice the skills and learn from your mistakes, you will gain the confidence you need to negotiate satisfying agreements for your employer and also for yourself!

By Barbara Boldt, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland