When we consider the types of negotiation that occur in a professional environment, we tend to think first of salaries. But nearly all of our relationships involve some form of negotiation. From defining roles and assigning tasks in a team environment, to managing deadlines and assets, to dealing with clients, lenders, suppliers, and government bodies, we engage daily in a process of balancing conflicting interests or limited resources. To develop a fulfilling professional life, we must be prepared to negotiate effectively and with confidence.
Participants in a negotiation can sabotage the outcome by characterizing the exchange as a confrontation or a conflict. The purpose of negotiation is to promote dialogue and, ultimately, to achieve agreement. An adversarial or uncooperative attitude can easily scuttle any positive results and plunge the discussion into pointless hostility. Language plays an instrumental role in determining the tone of a negotiation. Neutral, inclusive statements set a calm and reasonable tone, whereas declaring an absolute position leaves little room for compromise.
Negotiation can be stressful. It can evoke feelings of fear and anger, especially when it seems that one’s best interests are threatened. And it is more than likely that everyone involved in a thorny negotiation will experience some negative emotion.
The key to overcoming this barrier to a successful resolution is to acknowledge that diverse perspectives and interests exist and to address them openly. Instead of reacting to emotional outbursts with escalating emotion, a symbolic gesture expressing empathy or even an apology can go a long way toward defusing the situation and creating a more collaborative atmosphere.
Limited resources, whether they are budgetary, human, or material, are what most often give rise to competing interests and create the need for negotiation. During the course of a negotiation one party might introduce obstacles attributed to limited funds, time, personnel, policy restraints, or a combination of reasons. If the limits put forth are real but the parties share a mutual desire to reach a compromise, then a collaborative exercise in problem-solving will usually yield an agreeable outcome.
However, in some instances the limits are artificial and may signal an unwillingness to negotiate. A sincere attempt to brainstorm a solution represents the most productive course of action; one that will invite the active engagement of the participants or encourage them to reveal their true intentions.
Thorough preparation can make all the difference to the outcome of a negotiation. Not only must you know what you hope to achieve, but you should research the interests of the other parties involved.
For example, prior to a salary negotiation, consult salary surveys for your industry, and geographical region (try payscale.com or Salary Wizard Canada); talk to a mentor about his or her experiences. In other words, make sure your requests are reasonable, try to anticipate arguments, and arm yourself with alternatives you might be willing to consider.
Be clear about what you want, but also make the effort to listen carefully to opposing points of view. The other party’s position might be obvious, but it can improve your ability to work toward an agreement if you know what factors motivate their decisions and if you are able to address them in a measured and informed manner. Consider whether the negotiation might be affected by timing or other circumstances over which you might have some control.
Expect compromise and be prepared to make some concessions. That is what negotiation is all about, after all. Ask for what you want, but try to take a long view where possible. You might not achieve all of your objectives in a single negotiation, but over time opportunities for adjustment and renegotiation might arise. Just as your career is a work in progress, so are the relationships and agreements that support you along the way.
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