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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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How to achieve more with negotiating


I was at a wedding yesterday, &  was very surprised to find myself informally negotiating with a choir mistress. I am ashamed to say, that I completely failed in my negotiating objective. I’ll explain a little.... I was in possession of the order of service booklets, and was very aware that there wasn’t enough for one per person. In my estimation there was probably only about 60 booklets in total for 150 guests – and the choir mistress was demanding 18 of these for the choir, vicar, bell-ringers and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Needless to say, I didn’t put up a very convincing argument and dutifully handed over 18 orders of service booklets.

Earlier this morning, I found myself once again negotiating – but this time with my 2 year old. However, this time, I was very successful and achieved my negotiating objectives.

Whilst the two scenarios were very different, I was negotiating with two very vociferous people, who were not being particularly rationale, and reasonably aggressive in their demands from me. As you are aware, in business you are expected to work and negotiate with some not particularly rationale people.

So, what made the difference in these two instances? I was intrigued why in two situations, I had two completely different outcomes, and what made the difference. As a result I have compiled my top tips for achieving more when negotiating.

  1. Explore other options before negotiating

    Negotiating costs time and money. Think about it...When negotiating you have to give stuff away in return for concessions from the other side. In addition, if you negotiate too hard, you risk damaging relationships. If you can positively influence or problem-solve together you can often avoid the need to negotiate and preserve (perhaps even build) the relationship.
  2. Know from the outset what is your ‘walk-away-position’ and the consequences of walking away.

    Having clarity about your ‘best alternative to negotiated agreement’ gives you the ability to know when to walk away from a negotiation. That way, you stop yourself, in the heat of the moment, from giving away too much.
  3. Look to preserve the relationship

    You never know when you may need a favour (or a referral) from the other side in a negotiation. It may not be this week or next week, but my experience, professional paths tend to cross frequently.  My previous firm had a track record of gaining work and referrals from the parties they had been in negotiation against. They achieved this impressive stat by always negotiating professionally and fairly. It goes without saying that if you are negotiation with an existing client, it is of paramount importance to preserve the relationship. It costs 7-14 times as much to find a new client, than to get more work from an existing client.
  4. Explore your opponent’s agenda and needs

    This is where I failed in my attempt to influence the choir mistress – and was comprehensively bamboozled by her demands. This is really best summed up by the phrase ‘seek first to understand’. If you understand the other side’s agenda and needs, you can put together a proposal that is most likely to be accepted early into the negotiation process.
  5. Think creatively

    Most people think negotiation is all about money. Actually, you can negotiate about anything – I found myself this weekend negotiating about ‘order of service’ booklets and what my daughter was going to eat for breakfast. Before going into a negotiation, think about what you can offer to the other side, which wouldn’t cost you much, but will be of a high value to the other side. Plus, think about what the other side could offer which would help sweeten the deal for you. Some ideas for you... payment terms, free advertising, referrals & introductions, invitations to events, delivery time...
  6. Hold your nerve

    Negotiations can be very tense affairs. If you are not sure what you are agreeing to, ask the other side for a summary of their proposal OR take a ‘natural break’ to give you much needed thinking time. If your negotiating opponent is playing hardball, you have two choices – play hardball back or give the other side feedback on the impact they are making with you.
  7. Don’t give away concessions without getting something in return

    Remember how the Ducks at the park never seem to understand that they are only going to get one piece of your sandwich. Well, it is the same in negotiations. If you give away a concession without asking for something in return, the other side will carry on asking for concessions until you say no...

If you are about to enter a difficult negotiation OR think that you could achieve more for your time, money and effort in negotiations – give me a call on 01234 48 0123, drop me a line on [email protected] or take a look at my website:

One Response

  1. Negotiating

    I thought this was an excellent post, bringing out many of the key requirements for a successful negotiation.

    If I may add to them:

    – although Heather suggests that ‘negotiating costs time and money’, *not* negotiating can cost even more!  One of the secrets is to know what might be negotiable and when – and indeed with whom.  Sometimes, no good deals may be negotiated and, if that is the case, it can be much better to walk away rather than do a bad deal.  Sometimes, we may even be negiotiating with the wrong party – who doesn’t have the appropriate authority, power or influence.

    – many are frightened of negotiating because they think it sets up unpleasant arguments that can damage relationships going forward.  That is why getting the relationship right first (including establishing what they want, why and how badly) is a critical stage in opening any dialogue that may then turn into a more formal negotiation.  Great deals are ‘win-deals’ with something advantageous for both sides – so how better to build a relationship than explore what the other side *really* wants, before making counter-proposals?  (That’s where many negotiators go wrong – they don’t offer imaginative alternatives that might suit both parties far better.  Hence the importance of Heather’s Tip 5 – ‘Think Creatively’.)

    So to put this in practice, what might any of us do differently with such an awkward Choir Mistress next time?

    Perhaps we could 1) acknowledge the CM’s problem, 2) say how much we were all looking forward to hearing the choir (all relationship-building); 3) turn the CM’s problem into a shared issue (there aren’t enough service booklets and surely the congregation also need to know what is going to happen?); and then 4) make some counter-proposals (what if the choir were to share 1 copy between two, perhaps the congregation could manage with 1 between three?; or could she run some photocopies off in the vestry or at a nearby hotel?).

    Or, given that the CM already appeared quite hostile to start with, we don’t want the Choir to walk out (as if they would?), but we do need the congregation to be castered for as well.  So we could still wisely go through steps 1 and 2 above, to maintain at least some good will, and then engage a higher authority such as the Organist or Minister who might see much better sense?

    Just some thoughts…  (I hope the wedding went well, anyway Heather?)

    Jeremy Thorn
    (Author of ‘How to Negotiate Better Deals’)

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Heather Townsend


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