Negotiation Tips & Suggestions

Today I had the privilege of hearing a presentation entitled “Negotiation for Community Leaders” by L. Steven Smutko of NC State Universtity. Several points struck me as particularly valuable and worthy of being added as life skills.

Smutko defined negotiation as “any communication between two or more people with the intent to influence or persuade.” One important trait for a negotiator is to recognize that possibilities for mutual gain often exist and, when possible, to identify those areas where such gain can occur. As such, negotiation does not have to be a competitive process but can instead be used to create additional value (a “pareto optimal solution“) through mutual gains.

The purpose of negotiation, according to Smutko, is “not always to reach agreement. Agreement is only one means to an end, and that end is to satisfy your interests. The purpose of negotiation is to explore whether you can satisfy your interests better through agreement than you could by pursuing your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).”

Interestingly, the party with the best BATNA has the most power and best position from which to negotiate. Those negotiating from the weaker position must seek to develop an alternative that is superior to their counterpart’s best alternative. Other times they must find a way to improve the other side’s BATNA in order to encourage them to negotiate at all.

When preparing to negotiate, the following three phases are recommended:

  1. Alone – clarify your own thinking (know your “bottom line” and “wiggle room”, identify what you bring to the table, identify alternatives, etc.)
  2. Together – prepare to negotiate (create ambiance, set goals, share interests, agree on a process, prepare agenda, etc.)
  3. Alone – evaluate the issues and options (prioritize issues and potential options, identify tradeoffs, determine best options)

In all cases, negotiators much be honest (you don’t have to show your whole hand always, though — information can be shared incrementally as trust is built), principled, and creative. It helps to “think outside the box,” build relationships, ask questions and create value. Smutko suggests that creating value is done by exploring interests on both sides, suspending criticism and generating options that increase gains to both sides. Once value has been created, it can be distributed.

Many issues can be framed in ways that address the concerns of both sides. Think along these lines: “How can we . . . while at the same time . . .?” By carefully framing issues in ways that are do not lead to zero-sum settlements one can often invite solutions.

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