Win-win outcomes: the basics of negotiation

One of the best professional decisions that I made was to get certified as a mediator, not only because I believe people should really try to exhaust their options before getting into any kind of litigation, but because it helped me to learn a lot about negotiation.

Negotiation is part of our daily lives, it is part of relationships – personal or professional, it is part of human nature.

We learn to negotiate early in life: you say it is time for bed, your kid asks for “10 more minutes”, and you settle on 5…that’s negotiation ( really simple, right? Don’t raise your hopes too high…). Something that your kid cannot even define, but is already doing.

And we will negotiate with them all the time, about chores, homework, food, video games…it is endless. But…really important, because we will negotiate for the rest of our lives, so, the sooner we all (including our kids) learn to negotiate for win-win situations, the most we can avoid serious conflicts and losses.

Don’t take make wrong – a good dose of conflict is absolutely positive, but as important is to learn that we can try to get into agreements, that we can work towards outcomes that make both sides happy, or at least outcomes that are easily acceptable and tolerable for both sides.

It is no different when we are talking about jobs colleagues and workplace. Disagreement, difference on opinions, cultures and values, difference in personalities and goals, all of it will make us face situations where we have to negotiate.

So how do we get to “win-win” outcomes?

In my experience, some basics of negotiation are:

1- Be certain that what you are trying to negotiate is actually negotiable – in many situations, there might be some points that are simply not negotiable, at least for one of the parties. For example, if one steals something from the company and the company even got him on video, that will sure get the person fired: stealing is a non-negotiable term.

2- Know what your counterpart wants. Understand the implications of what he wants: financial, emotional, intellectual. All of it. When you do, you can anticipate objections and obstacles and propose options.

3- Be honest on which points of the negotiation you can compromise: which points can be managed if you get half way, or if you even give in (on that one thing)? Not all the points that we are negotiating are equally important, and knowing the ones which you can be more flexible about will make it easier to show to the other side that you are willing to compromise.

4- Do not narrow your options from the beginning: negotiation is about options, about finding solutions that can satisfy the needs of both parties. One might think he has the best solution ever, but the other might consider it inappropriate. When you cross several options, you might find one that fits more easily the needs of the parties. If you limit the options right at the beginning you limit also the possibilities of agreement.

5- It is not all about the law. Of course the law is a huge factor and it is important to keep it in the very bottom of the discussion, however, you are trying to get to an agreement with the other party, we are trying for that “win-win” situation. As long as your options are not illegal or unethical, bring them to the table. When not considering exclusively the law, the parties can come with some creative solutions that might lead them to a deal.

6- Treat the other party as you would like to be treated: if you want him to be open to your ideas, be open to his; if you want him to listen to you, start by listening to him. If you want him to show flexibility, be flexible yourself.

7- Create a neutral zone for the negotiation: first, find a neutral place, where none of the parties might feel any kind of pressure or intimidation. Then, create a peaceful and open environment, where both parties feel comfortable expressing their ideas, and saying “no” to the ones they do not believe in. For example: sitting across from one another might naturally create the perfect “tug-of-war” scenario – it might be better to sit side by side, or by the corner of the table.

8- Separate the issue from the person: make sure that you are discussing, pondering and looking solutions for situations, not for the person involved. When any of the parties feel “personally attacked” they put themselves in a very defensive position and negotiation becomes much harder.

9- Commit and honor it. If you are able to commit on anything, honor your promises. Make sure that you lay out the deal based on what you can do.

10- Say no if you need to. Do not settle for a deal that you do not believe can work, that will not be good for you, that will not make you feel like you have won something with it. If you don’t believe, say no. And bring different ideas to the table. Be creative, open and collaborative, but settle for a solution you believe in. And remember, the other party can and might do the same.

Negotiation is not always easy and no one is saying that if you do all the above, you will guarantee 100% of “win-win” outcomes.

You might need to negotiate with your peers, your supervisor, employee, vendor or customer. Negotiation will come in different forms and shapes. Preparing for the negotiation and understanding the benefit of having the “win-win” outcome can however increase the loyalty of your counterpart, since they do not feel that all you want is to take advantage of them. Negotiating win-win situation also helps your reputation which will reflect on new relationships and deals to come.

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