Good negotiation skills are tantamount to a successful career, starting with understanding the process of negotiation. First, there’s preparation: understanding wants, needs, positions, interests, and your desired outcome, as well as that of the other side. Then you must communicate your views. You analyze your goals as the negotiation progresses. Eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later), you reach an outcome that is agreeable to both sides. A win-win is an ideal ending to a negotiation. Otherwise, it feels more like a manipulation, suppression, or resignation.

In Getting to Yes, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiating Project make a distinction between position and interest. A position is what people state they want. An interest is what they really want, the root that underlies their position. For example, Sue may state that her position for the negotiation is to increase her vacation days, but her interest is that she needs more time off to care for a sick parent. Knowing her interest, the other party may either grant Sue vacation days or offer her information from the human resources department on elder care services.

Fisher and Ury say a negotiation settlement is successful based on three things: “It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible; it should be efficient; and it should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the two parties.” A wise agreement is one in which both sides believe that their interests have been met and have a feeling of fairness. As in conflict resolution, Fisher and Ury recommend focusing on the issues, not the individual people involved. This helps both parties understand each other’s perspectives and better meet each other’s needs.

Competition and cooperation seem to be duking it out in a negotiation. The competitive side wants to get what’s best for its side and win. Meanwhile those who cooperate are looking for an outcome that both parties can live with. For a negotiation to succeed, you must find the best balance between cooperation and competition.

A cooperative strategy might involve brainstorming with the other side to develop possible options for resolution. Fisher and Ury recommend using brainstorming, with both sides contributing as many ideas as possible without judging them. When the brainstorming time is up, they review the list of ideas and focus on the ideas that best apply to the negotiation. They then review the selected ideas as part of the negotiation. Brainstorming is valuable since it not only provides information about each side’s interests, but also generates more potential solutions.

Maintaining the relationship is of utmost importance in a win-win negotiation. Treating each other with respect and feeling that the outcome respects your goals impacts the relationship’s future. Preserving the relationship is key because that’s where future business may develop. Negotiating opens new doors that can solidify relationships and build admiration and self-respect for both parties.

Do you have to win? Do you need a Vegas poker face? What if you feel unprepared compared to the know-it-all you’re up against? Are your negotiating skills on par with those of your boss? Just what are negotiating skills? Think about this one: do you run toward negotiating or run away? Why?

Understanding your feelings, motivations, fears, goals, weaknesses, and skills helps you become more conscious and deliberate in your actions. This is the first step in growth and improvement.

A stereotype holds that women are bad at negotiating, whereas men are great negotiators. Because of this, women often believe that they don’t have the skills to successfully negotiate. If women act assertively and work for what they want, they may fear getting labeled negatively for acting outside society’s expectations. Even worse, if you buy into this hype, you may set yourself up to act as if all this hype is true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unfortunately, the person you are negotiating with man or woman has been exposed to society’s same assumptions and will react to you accordingly.

For example, imagine that a woman employee approaches a male supervisor. He’s already thinking that women are not good negotiators and will react to her in that manner (no need to give in she won’t fight, she’ll walk away with less and be happy, throw her a couple hundred bucks and we’re done). Same goes for a woman approaching another woman to negotiate.

When the supervisor negotiates with a man, he reacts according to that hype, too (this will be tough, let’s see how he plays the game, he’ll ask for everything). Code switch: Recognize that you and the person on the other side may have some assumptions about women’s ability to negotiate. Move beyond the stereotypes. Prepare by knowing your interests and options, and knowing the other person’s interests and options, too.

This was taken from Audrey's recently  co-authored book, Code Switching: How to Talk so Men will Listen (Alpha Books, 2009).

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