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Negotiating in a crisis

by Alan Nelson

Whether you are looking for negotiating a reduction in rent on your business premises or simply resolving the key question of who takes priority on the home broadband, one unexpected consequence of the lock down is that we are all engaged in more negotiations than we are used to. But are you any good at it?

Many people tend to assume that you either are or are not a good negotiator. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Negotiation is a process. You can get good at it by learning some key skills. What's more, there are some simple tools you can use that will help you succeed, that most people don't know about.

So, here are my top 5 tips for successful negotiations during the crisis:

1. A bit of empathy goes a long way

Try to put yourselves in the other person's shoes. I know it's hard to imagine right now but one day this will be over, and we will return to whatever people are by then calling the new normal. Business relationships will resume and the way you behaved during the lock down will be remembered. So don't give them a reason to want to get back at you. Think about the situation from their point of view as well as your own, and wherever possible, find a solution that is a win for both parties.

2. Listening, speaking and understanding

When most people think about negotiators, they think about their ability to pitch a compelling idea. Being clear and articulate, and positioning what you want in a way that sounds reasonable and hard to knock down, is indeed a key skill, but there are two other skills that are just as important, if not more so.

The first is listening. You should spend at least as much time listening as you do speaking. Only by listening can you understand their position and find the win-win outcome.

Alongside listening is the third key skill: understanding. Good negotiators are very good at understanding the other party's position. By quickly appreciating the key issues the other party cares about, they are able to position their own requirements in a way that is acceptable to the other party.

Most people aren't good at all three of these skills. So, reflect a little on your strengths. If you are a nervous talker, then prepare for negotiations by thinking about the words you might use when articulating the things that really matter to you. If you tend to talk too much, then prepare some questions. And if you find it hard to understand what the other person cares about, get yourself a pen and paper and make notes while they speak.

3. Understand the trades

Negotiation is all about trading concessions. We start in one pace and then we trade concessions. So, make a list of all the things you have to trade. In making that list, divide them into what negotiators call constants and variables. Constants are those things that have the same apparent value to both parties Ė where more for one party means less for the other. The most obvious is price. But sometimes variables are just as important. This is where you have something you could do that costs you very little, but which is a big deal for the other party. So for example it might be fantastic for the other party if you could deliver before 9.00am. That might be easy for you and cost you nothing and so our tendency is to be helpful and agree because it's easy. But in doing so you could be giving away your ace card and getting nothing in return. So, include in your list everything you could trade, whether it is important to you or not.

4. "If" is the hardest word

And all that time, you thought it was sorry! Once you have your list of things you could trade, think about phrases you could use that include the word if.

"If I could deliver to you before 9.00pm every Tuesday, could you commit to a minimum order of x?"

That will help to ensure that you donít give things away from nothing.

5. And finally ...plan, plan, plan

This is something that finance people should be good at. Spend time before the negotiation planning your approach. The four tips given above provide a pretty good list of headings for your plan: 


 Empathy   What will the other party want and what will they find hard to accept? How can   I position what I want so that they will understand and want to help me? What   could I give them that might make it acceptable?
 Skills  Which of the skills do I need to focus on because it is not my natural strength   and how can I prepare to listen more, understand better, or speak more   confidently? 
 Trading  Prepare your list of constant and variables and think about could be traded for   what.
 IF  Write your if questions to help you trade naturally


And that's it. Good luck with negotiating those difficult conversations we are all having to have during this weirdest of times. Stay calm and professional and try to remember that you want to work with these people when all this is over!

Alan Nelson is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.

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