Negotiation skills in the workplace: Strategy and tactics

Enhance relationships in the workplace with these negotiation skill strategies and tactics.

In the business world, time is money. Negotiations must be fast-paced and productive. Decision-makers grow impatient when conflicts erupt and hinder progress. That is why it is important to anticipate and avoid disagreements when possible, and negotiate effectively when necessary. Not everyone handles conflict well. Those who do can earn recognition, rewards, and sometimes even promotion. Successful negotiation at any organizational level is possible when you practice a multi-step process like the one below.

First, identify factors that cause conflict. In the heat of debate, true sources of tension can get lost as various personalities get involved. It’s up to the project manager to find out what is creating real problems. Is a project deadline too tight? Are department budgets strained? Are too few people involved? As you discuss issues, make a list of possible conflict sources:

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Negotiation skills in the workplace: Strategy and tactics

  • personality clashes
  • budget constraints
  • conflicting priorities
  • competing goals
  • limited resources

For example, if one department wants to complete a project in three months while another needs it done sooner, disagreement may arise about a proposed timeline. The project coordinator should arrange for both sides to find a mutually agreeable completion date. This may require negotiation if both departments insist on getting their way. The project manager, however, must review the situation globally to determine what will work best for the company’s interests. When possible, both sides should be able to agree that a certain date or dollar amount is best overall.

Second, allow involved participants to have an equal voice. Whatever the problem may be, it deserves a thoughtful hearing by all. A vocal staff member may insist on getting his or her way first and foremost, but a careful negotiator will provide shared authority, as far as possible, to all who are involved so no one feels invalidated or left out of the negotiating process. Making decisions behind closed doors or leaving some staff out of discussions promotes ill feeling and distrust. During negotiations encourage each participant to share ideas, insist on respectful responses, and promote positive interaction.

Third, establish credibility as project leader. Calming irate tempers and comforting anxious team members are some of the tasks that build trust and respect. Most people like to think a strong leader is in charge, even when disagreements arise. Presiding over negotiations in a fair-minded way shows that you are working toward a positive outcome in everyone’s best interests. Come to meetings prepared with a specific agenda, and encourage others to adopt the mindset of proactive thinking as opposed to a defeatist attitude. Be polite to everyone, even those who most vocally demonstrate opposition. Use charts, graphs, or other visual aids to explain complicated data so that everyone understands the matters under negotiation. Give each suggestion full hearing and fair consideration, even if it seems immediately unsuitable.

Fourth, choose win-win. Open negotiations with the idea that all parties will “win” something rather than endorsing the notion that someone must “lose.” Emphasize that with give and take from each person, everyone can reap benefits. Be prepared to list potential complications when one side insists on a “me-first” attitude.

Finally, have a follow-up plan in case first-line negotiations fail. For example, if Department A insists on paying just a third of project expenses while Department B claims it can afford to pay half, find out if additional support can be gleaned from additional departments that may benefit, even marginally, from the completed project. If possible, get everyone’s buy-in (officially and attitudinally) for the second line of defense. If not, find out which arbiters or mediators your company is willing to use either from within or outside of the organization.

In the stress of conflict it is vital to slow down, sort issues, think them through, delegate tasks and share authority, and arrive at decisions that benefit all. Be ready with a follow-up plan or demonstrate willingness to let someone else try. Above all, keep calm. Negotiation is a means of sharing ideas to play up strengths while reducing weaknesses.

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