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How to negotiate: Five tips to help you work out a deal

If you want to bring people with you and make effective decisions, then you'll need to show empathy and openness.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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Image: Yakobchuk Olena, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Talented negotiators who can influence how decisions are made are more likely to be successful, says Harvard Business Review. For professionals looking to climb the career ladder, a strong set of negotiation skills will help ensure team members and businesses reach the right outcomes. Five experts suggest some great ways to boost your negotiation skills. 

1. Recognise that a negotiation isn't a competition

Stephen Booth, CIO at Coventry University, recognises successful discussions are about keeping your ears open and – sometimes – your mouth shut: "It's fundamentally important that you listen," he says. 

Many professionals approach a negotiation with a predefined goal in mind. Booth says taking that stance means a closed approach that is unlikely to pay off. Instead, make sure you understand how everyone can bring something useful to a discussion. These opinions might challenge your world view – and, if that happens, it's a good thing.

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"If you're in an actual negotiation, as opposed to just talking past each other, be prepared to change your mind. Don't see a negotiation as a thing that you have to win and someone else has to lose," he says.

"You're trying to get to a constructive outcome – and that starts with listening, empathy and a willingness to be open. I think if you do that, you also find the other person is willing to be open. So, keep your ears open and keep your mind open."

2. Understand everything from the angle of collaboration

Danny Gonzalez, chief digital and innovation officer at London North Eastern Railway, says successful professionals show empathy at all times. 

"Always try and understand the shoes that whoever you're dealing with is standing in," he says. "Try and approach everything from an angle of collaboration. Whether you're negotiating with someone above you or below, you're not imposing your view as the absolute way that anything should be done."

Gonzalez says a strong sense of empathy will help you to build a bond with all the various people and partners you work with. Smart professionals will then ensure that all the individuals involved in a process have room to think and an opportunity to speak.

"If you're negotiating with people who you need to work on projects that you need to deliver, then they need to feel that they have got ownership of whatever they're doing. And the flip side of that is with senior stakeholders – they need to be given the opportunity to understand what you're doing and to feed into the process, too. Even when you're dealing with partners outside of the organisation, I think those two things stand as really important as well."

3. Give partners a seat at the table

Daniel Smith, head of analytics at clothing band PANGAIA, says there's a fairly strong consensus across the executive team in his organisation. Negotiation skills are more critical when it comes to looking beyond the enterprise firewall – and he ensures partners are included and informed in discussions as much as possible.

"I've always found they have to have a seat at the table," he says. "They have to feel that they're involved in the work we're undertaking. I'm don't believe in transactional relationships because there's no mutual benefit."

Smith says professionals looking for an external party to help solve a business challenge won't get the right solution if they don't understand what your current corporate values are, what your business is looking to achieve, and why you want them to come and help you.

"During negotiations a lot of that decision-making process will focus on ticking boxes and looking at things from a value point of view. But it's also important that you're looking at your partners and thinking, 'Can we work with this company, and believe that this relationship is going to build and get stronger?' And when we negotiate with people around a table, all of those elements are part of the decision-making process."

4. Step back and understand each side's interests

David Schwartz, VP of PepsiCo Labs, says the key to successful negotiations is simple: "It's about people, people, people." 

He says a really helpful starting point for negotiations is understanding what everyone wants. As an example, Schwartz refers to the conversations he has with entrepreneurial businesses as part of his role leading innovation at PepsiCo.

"One of the first things we do in our discussions as we negotiate with startups is we have a magic-wand discussion. We ask, 'If you could get anything from PepsiCo, what would you want?' A lot of the success we've had – and we've worked across many agreements – is because we step back and understand each side's interests and objectives."

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To date, PepsiCo Labs – which is a specialist team within the business tasked with harnessing the power of technological innovation – has scaled more than 30 startups in over 200 countries. Schwartz says making time to understanding each side's interests and aims provides a platform for further fruitful discussions.

"This win/win or mutual benefit negotiation is a classic approach, but it really works," he says. "Then we can have a multivariable discussion where we consider a range of other things, such as, 'What are all the things they want? What are the things we all want? How important are these aims and how can we achieve them?' That approach has been really helpful for us."

5. Communicate the changes you want to make

Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard encourages negotiation and wants people to be open and flexible about how and where they work.

Stoddard has created an Employee Experience Group, which analyses different personas in the company and focuses on how Adobe deploys new tools. She says bringing people together helps foster successful negotiations about the introduction of emerging technology, such as robotic process automation.

However, she also recognises that being open-minded is a constant work in progress – and professionals must make sure people in all parts of the organisation are always aware of why changes are being made.

"One thing I will say is that you can't just pluck up people and move them around, because that's not good. I wouldn't like it; you probably wouldn't like it, either. So, a big part of it is communication and being able to share with people about why you're doing things. Getting close to employees is a critical part of the equation for future success," she says.

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