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What is the first thing that crosses your mind when you hear the word ‘Negotiation’? Buying some more time for extending the deadline of submission? Bargaining with your boss for a holiday on a public holiday? Persuading time to run a little slowly while you bask in the moment of happiness?
Expressions vary but experiences overlap. There are perspectives and then there are phases. Situations when you wish you were a little more skilled, a better communicator maybe? There’s a host of qualities you wished you’d learn in a leadership training program. But the one element that wins hands down is the age-old ‘Art of negotiation’. It’s an art we all possess, but very few genuinely harness.
Here’s a quick three step process that explains the art in frames.
Step 1: The Basics
Have any of you watched the TV series ‘Suits’? The core of the show is based upon the ‘Art of Negotiating’. It’s not about winning, not even about being the best. It’s about integrating options to find an amicable solution. Let’s call it the ABC of Learning – Analyse. Balance. Celebrate.
As a fresher, when you first join an organization, post all the documentation, the introductions, and the on boarding, what is the one thing that you learn on your own? No, you don’t directly jump to negotiating. But you do begin with baby steps. Making yourself comfortable with the office atmosphere, attuning yourself with the company’s culture, establishing a rapport with your colleagues, learning to take critical feedback from your seniors.
“One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.” – Nelson Mandela.
This is also applicable to us on a personal front. Imagine being at a stage where you are facing mid-life existential crisis and you need to take a decision. How else would you weigh your pros and cons to implement the process of elimination, if you do not negotiate with yourself? With your situation, resources or sometimes, even with relationships, while keeping everyone’s best interests at heart.
Step 2: The nitty-gritties
Simplistically put, aligning to the theory of evolution. The moment you begin adapting to more work pressure is when you get introduced to the finer nuances. More responsibilities, a renewed sense of ownership, and eventually, a well-deserved promotion. Climbing the ladder of success, going up the learning curve you begin to understand the importance of work-life integration. You slowly begin to experience the power of persuasion, and with this, grow your qualities of leadership.
Let me ask you a few simple questions: “Do you as an individual believe in values? Are there any values that you hold dear to yourself? Your guiding principles that sub-consciously keep patrolling in your mind even in your darkest hours?”
Your answer is what will determine your personality. Embracing the art of negotiating will make you become a better leader. But only when you do it right, will you become an ‘Influencer’. A salient criteria that employers seek while recruiting all-rounder professionals for key positions.
Have you ever been asked the most cliched question of retro times? “If given a choice, what would you pick? Career? Or Family?” Imagine if you genuinely had to pick! But then, what if you were an ace negotiator and had the option to live with both? Believe it or not, but this does become a defining aspect that will mold you as an individual, and truly define your leadership management skills, making you approachable, trustworthy and dependable.
Step 3: The WOW Factor: Window Of Wait
Good things take time but great things take patience. Deborah Kolb and Jessica Porter in their book ‘Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins into Big Gains’ have literally spelled it out for aspiring leaders. Don’t work in haste, don’t follow footsteps; leave your own. It is your uniqueness that will help you stand out from the crowd. Everybody negotiates, everybody bargains to get things done. But individuals with a solution-oriented mindset, one that creates a win-win situation for all, often hold an edge over the rest.
The art of negotiation goes hand-in-hand with conflict resolution or even crisis management. Not to forget its companions – Soft skills and Proactiveness. Well, for most managers, its practically a part of their KPIs. Situations that demand sensitivity and the willingness to train their emotional quotient. Take for example the classic case of ‘Empathy not sympathy’ during escalations.
This brings me to the other aspect of negotiation – The journey we all live through every day. Like they say ‘Life is a series of negotiations’ – Battling your inner demons, overcoming obstacles, and ensuring that every decision you make, leaves you a little happier. Sounds a bit cliched right?
But then how else would you define ‘Everyday negotiations?’ The day begins with it. You negotiate with your eyes to wake up, with your bed to let you buckle up, with the water for a quick shower, with the better half (or in some cases, mother dearest) for a quick bite, the transport that would help you reach on time, the elevator, the punching machine, the coffee machine, the PC, the AC, the people, every little thing is a sub-conscious (or rather, a routine) negotiation! This is one process that does not change – Irrespective of how much wealth you have or what designation you occupy. Negotiation is an integral part of your culture, even your work culture!
It’s all about how you say what, and when
The reason some individuals become influential, as well as successful leaders, is because of their sheer ability to listen – With patience, with empathy, and with complete objectivity. The art of negotiation is one of the easiest to master. Really!
‘What are the traits of an ace negotiator you ask?’ Apart from being a team player and extremely perseverant, let me summarize it for you. Ensure a complete background check before you venture into any kind of negotiation. Being authoritative comes with accurate information and being assertive, with practice. Keep calm and assess the situation, take time in decision making.
Always have an alternative plan that leaves scope for some flexibility, because sometimes, what you need and what you get, may not be the same things. It takes a while to inculcate a sense of positivity, the “go-getter’s attitude” they call it, but it’s definitely one of the most powerful traits of an exuberant negotiator. Last, but not the least, observation leads to smart decision making. Look out for the non-verbal cues and body language, it speaks volumes of the opponent’s intentions.
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” – John F. Kennedy
Stimulate, not manipulate
The ladder of success to a leadership position is a benevolent journey of great resolve. It demands consistent dedication and the quest to excel at all times. Machiavellianism is a complete no! Orchestrating tricky situations for others involved in the process of negotiation to indulge self-centred interests are strictly unethical.
A good negotiator will always encourage a fair deal and ask for concessions with integrity; honest and straightforward. They thrive on competition, but also have a high morale. A logical mind with a firm belief in equitable partnerships, and a sound business acumen complemented by hard work and good judgement makes for the ultimate negotiator. Smart negotiators who possess the ability to and dare to think out of the box, often make for good leaders. They entail a high sense of emotional intelligence and are bound to provide equal opportunities to their fellow subordinates when promoted to a senior position within the organization.
“Leaders become great not because of their power but, because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell
Negotiation is a skill and being a leader, a responsibility. On your journey to the top, leave a legacy that leads by example.