Anything that brings about an agreement involved some type of negotiation. Whether a resolution arrived after a calm, civilized exchange or a word duel, there are two scenarios that can play out—one person got their way, or the two parties compromised.
While most of us negotiate continually during the day—from getting a teen to clear the breakfast dishes, to selling grandma’s old car—the most important negotiations typically occur during the workday, asserts Jim Camp, author of Start With NO (Crown Business; $22.95).
“Negotiations can be difficult and trying,” said Camp, “because the assumption is that everyone will agree to the same policies or agendas because everyone sees the issue the same way.”
Obviously that is not always true. Tech leaders face many kinds of negotiations including negotiations with superiors, staff members, and vendors. The most difficult of these is often the internal negotiations within the company. To land on the winning side, you must first prepare and hone your communication skills.
Negotiating isn't fun
The easiest negotiations are usually those with new vendors or new customers. Because there’s little relationship or history to consider, they typically go more smoothly. “The less history, the less difficulty,” explained Camp.
When it comes to internal operations, it’s an entirely different ballgame. Negotiating between internal business units can be disruptive and can negatively impact productivity. It also usually takes an emotional toll.
“The process can be shocking at times,” explained Camp. “One day, you think you are being supported by your peers or superiors; the next day you discover you are a lone wolf with no one backing you.”
The most frequent negotiation battlefields center on where the organization is going, such as increases in IT budgets for technology and staff, how the purchasing department should improve efficiency, or ways that staff training can be improved.
Honing critical negotiating skills
According to Camp, the key factor in achieving success in negotiations is knowing the outcome you want before the haggling even begins. This includes knowing how to react to expected responses. A good starting point is to list questions that need answers. You should also try to come up with questions you expect the other party to ask and then decide how you would respond to those questions.
Camp also stressed that you should consider the tone of voice you use during a negotiation. While sometimes a firm tone is called for, most often the best results come from using a softer, more nurturing tone, he said.
But the biggest mistake tech leaders can make is going into a negotiation unprepared. “They hardly give the negotiation process a thought until they are thrust into it,” explained Camp. “By then, it is often too late because they do not know the rules or anything about the players. A bad outcome is more likely [in such scenarios] than if they spent time sorting out the variables,” he said, adding, “You dramatically reduce the likelihood of snafus if you are prepared.”
The best approach is three-pronged: First identify the mission, then the purpose, and then the responsibility. Begin with a written overview to help thwart potential snags.
“Problems should be identified so you know how to proceed with a negotiation,” Camp said. For example, consider personal history within the company and relationships—if you have a poor history and there’s bitterness in from previous negotiations it’s best to smooth it out before initiating another negotiation. Also, consider whether other business unit leaders misled or failed to live up to agreements in past negotiations. Reviewing previous negotiation outcomes can help get the next one off to a good start.
The reality of negotiating
You hope that every negotiation scenario will result in an agreeable outcome. But as any CIO can attest, that's not always how the real world operates. It’s not easy to get a struggling company’s CFO to green light what you may consider a critical project these days. That’s why it's important to keep communication going even if negotiations stall or end.
One of the worst things you can do is try to stop negotiating entirely, warned Camp. For example, don't assume that an employee will swallow a decision you hand down without at least some discussion.
“He or she could quit and go elsewhere. That could be an upsetting turn of events if the employee is a valuable software designer, for example.…As difficult as it is, it would have paid to negotiate. The goal is to negotiate a compatible agenda down the road," Camp said. A good approach is to first introduce the idea or decision you’re considering and talk with the employee to get feedback, and provide a timeframe for that feedback. While you can make it clear how you’re leaning in terms of decision making, getting another perspective is never a bad idea.
That introduction talk is a good lead-in to what John Agno, an executive coach and president of Signature, Inc., in Ann Arbor, MI, believes is vital—creating a personal connection prior to negotiations. “This person is likely to reciprocate by doing something good for you,” he explained.