Successful negotiation is more than just give-and-take with a healthy dose of haggling. But what exactly are the key rules for a successful negotiation process? What skills make you a good negotiator?
We from the Centre for Negotiation Intelligence & Dispute Resolution at Vlerick Business School, consulted four experts from completely different fields: child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, leading politician Herman Van Rompuy, psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter and astronaut Dirk Frimout. How do they come up with solutions that other people don’t see? We spoke to them about four crucial negotiating skills and how they apply them in their own field of expertise.
1. Build a relationship of trust with your negotiating partner
Trust is crucial during negotiations. If you fail to focus on it enough, your negotiations are fated to be below par with little chance of a win-win. But building trust is not easy and often takes a long time.
Peter Adriaenssens experiences this daily in his work with young people: ‘It’s a bit paradoxical that we find it very easy to talk about positive communication but only wheel it out when we want something from the other person, so the positive communication comes with strings attached. Teenagers in particular are very sensitive to that.’
The other person immediately senses your insincerity, realising that you are only communicating positively because you want something from him or her. People pick up on this quickly, which disrupts the relationship with your negotiating partner before you have even started negotiating.
So be aware of your communication style and keep it real. Don’t suddenly adjust your behaviour and communication method because you are negotiating. This is also the best way to keep your original goal in mind.
2. Have the courage to take risks
Negotiation involves taking risks. As a young man, Dirk Frimout still remembers the proverb he came across in a youth hostel: “It’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.” “It’s often the other way round,” says Frimout. “People are afraid it won't work, so they just don't try.” Of course, you won’t get anywhere with that attitude. If you take the initiative to negotiate, you might also get a no. Nobody’s going to just hand you what you want on a silver platter. Negotiation requires effort and the courage to set the stakes high.
Frimout believes ambition is very important. “You need to believe you can do it and have the will to do it.” Only this will enable you to convey your ambition to others. After all, going on space missions is not a question of being lucky. You have to work incredibly hard for it, and you also need the courage to ask. The first time you ask, you’re likely to get no for an answer, nine times out of ten, says Frimout. So what do you do? Just ask the question again next time.
3. Respect differences - this will keep you connected with the other person
A negotiation only really becomes a challenge if the other party annoys you or comes up with viewpoints which are far removed from your own.
“I believe that being different forms the essence of human relationships. It might sound a bit odd, but it's precisely because we're different that we find each other interesting,” says Dirk De Wachter. If we all had the same story to tell, we wouldn't be interested in each other. So if your discussion partner goes one way in a negotiation and you want to go the other way, see where it takes you. Who knows, you might bump into each other again after a while.
De Wachter has more to say. “Leaders, real leaders, have the ability to remain true to themselves despite their differences with others. They continue to listen respectfully to these differences. Purely authoritarian leaders always want to be right. There is only one right idea and that is their idea.”
Do you find that you continue to look at the issue purely from your own perspective? If so, be aware of the impact this attitude will have on your relationship with the other person. If you succeed in really listening to opinions that differ from your own, this will benefit the relationship with your negotiating partner as well as the final outcome of the negotiations.
4. prepare properly and make the most of your time
Negotiations often falter as a result of poor preparation or communication. You might only have half an hour before you have to move on to another task, but that’s of no interest to your discussion partner.
Peter Adriaenssens says: “The strange thing is that you really can have a conversation in six minutes, but if people know in advance that they only have six minutes, it can ruin their communication because they start by conveying their stress.” So don't start your discussion with “I only have five minutes to do this or that.” That kind of intro can mess up the entire conversation. It will make you both start counting down from the very first second, focusing more on the time frame than the content of what you have to say.
So how can you make the best possible use of your time? By preparing really thoroughly. Know what you want to say, how you're going to get it across, what you want to achieve and the margins that define where you want to end up. “Preparation is the key to good negotiation. It’s absolutely essential. I never start with a blank sheet,” says Herman Van Rompuy. In other words, anyone who turns up to a meeting with a haiku in their hand may already be a whole novel behind their negotiating partner.