How everyone can win in a negotiation

In light of the recent GM/UAW contract negotiations and the fact that many of us find ourselves negotiating fairly often, I thought this would be a timely reprint. Originally published in 2014.

We negotiate because we have something to offer, or want something, under different terms than the other party — and we care about the outcome. Although the parties involved in a negotiation probably have different motives, values, concerns, and reasons for wanting a particular solution, it is safe to say that all individuals involved in the process are equally committed to the outcome, both intellectually and emotionally.

The need for effective negotiation skills is as great as it’s ever been, primarily due to technology. According to some reports, the internet has brought about more change in the sales process, negotiations, and customer retention over the last 10 years than in the previous 1,000. Today’s prospects, customers, and partners are more educated, more prepared, and have more alternatives. In response to this new reality, negotiators must be equally informed and prepared, respect the other party’s knowledge and interests, and be able to provide win-win solutions to remain competitive.

This is especially true when negotiating with a potential long-term business partner. If one partner is the clear winner in a negotiation, the seeds of discontent can be planted early on and lead to a less-than-positive business relationship over the long haul. With that in mind, the win-win approach should be a process in which you uncover and consider the real interests, needs, desires, concerns, and fears of the bargaining parties — an approach in which parties collaborate to create joint value by finding mutually agreeable solutions and developing beneficial alternatives and agreements.

In a previous career, I was the real estate negotiator for a restaurant company. We negotiated long-term leases with landlords all over the Midwest. I will never forget coming back to my boss with the single best deal I had ever done. I was actually proud of myself in getting all the concessions that I had. After he looked at the details, he actually had me go back to the landlord and give some of those concessions back. His comment to me was: “Do you realize that we are going to be partners with this landlord for 20 years? There is no way he would be happy even in the first year with some of the items you have negotiated. We absolutely have to be aware of the long-term relationship we have with our landlords.”

So, what does it take to be a good win-win negotiator? Here are a few tried and proven tips:

  • Questioning and listening​: Ask open-ended questions to gather information, clarify misunderstandings, and probe for the deeper issues. Then LISTEN to the responses!: 
  • Rephrasing: Restate the other person’s point of view in your own words. It often encourages them to expand on their position.
  • Brainstorming: Use a collaborative approach, in which creative ideas are encouraged and discussed. This fosters agreement and consensus.
  • Act now: State a deadline or small window of opportunity and provide bonuses or throw-ins if the other part acts now. In some cases, this step will move the process along or even seal the deal.
  • Buy time: Exactly the opposite from the above, asking for additional time to think things over or involve others can give both parties time to regroup and reassess the situation.

In addition to these tips and being respectful and true to their word, win-win negotiators are prepared, prepared, and prepared! They know what they want, what their counterpart wants, and why. They clearly understand their absolute (must have) concessions and desirable (nice to have) concessions. In other words, they know where they can be flexible. With that in mind they have a crystal-clear understanding of what their “walk-away” position is. They practice and rehearse areas that they know up front will be difficult parts of the discussion. Finally, they know that the best way to plan and prepare is to prepare the other side’s case as if it were their own.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.