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James Berry

University College London

Director UCL MBA

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Negotiation skills are essential in the modern workplace

Negotiations, done well, have the potential to resolve conflict and create a better work culture. So how can you hone this skill?

When you think of negotiations you wouldn’t be alone if the image of a salesperson sprang to mind. Negotiations have typically always been pitched as a skill for salespeople, where you go into a negotiation looking to win. But this is a very limited view of the potential use of negotiation techniques.

The ability to achieve a great negotiation is a skill that every employee should have.

Why is negotiation important in the workplace?

Negotiations are a core competency of communication. There are many different components to negotiations that are important for your organisation. It involves information gathering, understanding your ‘opponent’ or as I like to see them ‘partners’, learning to cooperate and building better solutions to common problems. Negotiations are part of our everyday life, and you probably negotiate several times a day without even being aware of it. Whether it is who is going to make dinner or take the bins out, through to more obvious negotiations in the workplace around salary, time and clients. When it comes to the workplace, negotiations are a critical skill that employees at all levels in all departments should master. There are some key considerations on what it takes to be a good negotiator, which may go against your perception of what successful negotiations look like and are important to understand.

The secret to effective negotiation

Part of the misconception of negotiation as a sales tactic is that there needs to be a clear winner, or a hard bargain needs to be driven. The interaction instead should be seen as an effort between two people to solve a problem. The traditional view is often viewed as a power play. As part of my teaching, I look specifically at executive negotiations, and I put forward an argument for a different view of what a negotiation should be that evens out the power balance from the start. Looking at a negotiation situation as two or more people trying to solve a mutual problem takes some of the direct competition out of the discussion allowing creativity to come to the fore.

How can you become a great negotiator?

Becoming a great negotiator requires building your skillset to help you and others uncover areas of mutual interest. Viewing negotiations as more than a zero-sum game can help you move beyond stated positions to interests. The first negotiation an individual has within their own company might be their hiring process. A potential employee wants a job and the company needs an employee. You have a common interest in solving this joint issue. Viewing a negotiation as an opportunity to work with someone else to solve a common problem is a fundamental aspect to succeeding at building value through negotiations and developing creative solutions. If there are multiple negotiations happening within your organisation every day – who is working on what project, how budgets are set, which teammates are visiting the client site –  each of these situations are opportunities for people to come up with solutions that work for all involved. Compromise is part of negotiations.
Negotiations have always been a part of the workplace, but there has been a fresh wave of interest in the skill of negotiation as we find ourselves in a particular period of uncertainty.
When you help someone solve a problem they have in a positive way, they will remember it. The way you negotiate and the outcomes you achieve for yourself and others can help you build a reputation, particularly with internal office negotiations. These are people you are going to see again so your ongoing relationships matter. Executives looking to build their careers and reputations should look at negotiations as a good way to establish a reputation as a fair-minded, trustworthy partner for making deals. People will want to include you in projects, deals and activities because using your skills and collaborative approach to negotiations adds value. Taking the competition out of the negotiation, particularly on an internal issue, is key to allowing people to mutually explore solutions that benefit the organisation as a whole. It can also help your team build a positive work culture focused on the broader goals of the organisation.

Using negotiations skills to create a better working culture

Negotiations have always been a part of the workplace, but there has been a fresh wave of interest in the skill of negotiation as we find ourselves in a particular period of uncertainty. For example, if you look at the ongoing debate around flexible working, which has been a result of the pandemic, many employers and employees now find themselves in the position of negotiating based on their own needs and wants. For many years we expected employees to be in the office 9-5 to produce the work we need. This has often led to presenteeism. The underlying interest of many companies requiring people in the office is productivity. Some employees may want a 9-5 existence, while others may be more productive by starting at 4 in the morning. There are opportunities for employers and employees to come together around common interests, such as to produce the same level of work at their current pay rate. Negotiations can help the collective find compromises within the larger framing that works for all.

How to start having healthy negotiations in the workplace

When it comes to building negotiation skills within your organisation here are some starting thoughts on how to approach it:
  • Start with your L&D team, if that is you, are you a confident negotiator? Are your management teams strong negotiators? I’d suggest holding a workshop or looking into courses on how to teach your executive team to negotiate well. Lead by example!
  • Encourage your teams to identify the needs vs. the wants when faced with a negotiation. Where are the areas where a compromise can be made?
  • Make learning about negotiations interactive and fun by incorporating real life examples of how we negotiate when you’re teaching it. It can be something based in work and your organisation but also outside of work to help people relate. Someone on your team may be an excellent negotiator at home but they need more encouragement at work.
The ability to achieve a great negotiation is a skill that every employee should have. Negotiations help to create a culture of inquiry and listening in a more subtle way, which has a long-lasting impact on a team’s performance, motivation and productivity. As we continue to operate in uncertain and challenging environments there has never been a more important time to learn how to become a great negotiator.

Author Profile Picture
James Berry

Director UCL MBA

Read more from James Berry

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