“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” -Wayne Dyer
When I engage business professionals who shy away from business negotiations, conflict appears to be their greatest emotional blocker. The reasons are varied including shyness, upbringing (their parents didn’t like negotiating), conservatism, and even religion to a degree.
The challenge with this line of thinking is there will always be negotiation either at home with your families or in business with your colleagues or customers. There are techniques to increase effectiveness in business negotiation while reducing conflict.
Conflict for the sake of conflict is just noise. Reduce the noise with a quiet, deliberate thought process, and you can change the trajectory of the conversation from conflict to a series of well-placed queries. This approach has the potential to be every bit as effective in business negotiations and is really more strategic than tactical. There is room for many styles of thinking and communication at the bargaining table. Some of the brightest negotiators history has known have been passive in tone but passionate at heart. Quiet does not mean weak.
Below are six conflict reducers to consider as you head into your next big business negotiation:
1) Clearly Identify What You Need- If there is one mistake that I see business negotiators make, it is that they have an idea, but are not totally sure, of what they actually need to get a deal done. This is frustrating for both sides in a negotiation because this lack of clarity eats up valuable time and --you guessed it-- raises the odds of conflict. I recommend that anyone heading into a business negotiation rank their needs and express each need whether in hard or soft costs as a dollar amount.
2) Understand the Needs of your Negotiating Partner- If you do not do the due diligence to find out what your negotiation partner needs, you are clearly not respecting their position and are inviting unhealthy discussion. Understanding your negotiation partner’s needs will help you clearly identify the gap in your two bargaining positions and will bring the possibility of positive collaboration into play.
3) Assemble “Money Questions”- Money questions are another way of saying high-gain or high-value questions. They are questions that cannot be answered with a straight yes or no and require descriptive answers. Questions that begin with who, why, where, when, how, and which are money questions. Assemble and rank your money questions. In most cases, you can deliver them in a calm, quiet manner that will not offend. In many instances, this questioning process lets your bargaining partner know you are sincere about completing a deal. Each money question you get answered will help build a picture in your mind as to how you can produce a positive conclusion to your business negotiation. Here are a few money question examples:
A) What is the highest value retention brand you sell?
B) Which models require the least amount of servicing?
C) If I was your sister, what advice would you give me about this deal and why?
D) Who in your organization would most likely approve my offer?
4) Handle Objections By Hearing Them Out- We all want to be heard. This is especially so in business negotiations. As soon as you sense the other side is feeling frustrated or venting a little, take steps to lessen conflict. Just stop and listen. Take notes. Repeat their objection or frustration in your own words. Let them talk this frustration through. If you are seriously paying attention to them it will help defuse and neutralize them. Ask them to recommend solutions to the perceived problem. Not only are they being heard, but they may just warm up to your calm, quiet business acumen. And…best yet, they may actually come up with a positive, accretive solution you had not thought of yourself. You don’t have to totally agree with their solutions and may continue with your own stance and objectives. However, we all want to be heard. By hearing them out, you will gain respect at the bargaining table and build a stronger partnership toward a smart deal!
5) Seek Collaboration When Bargaining- Collaboration in bargaining is one of the gold standards of business negotiation. When collaborating in a business negotiation, we are opening up our world so the other side can see more of our side. Objectives become more transparent for both sides. Risks in the negotiation become less mysterious and more instructive. Thus, we reduce the opportunity for conflict to manifest. Some call this approach “Win/Win”. I prefer to call it… “We All Win”. Collaboration requires courage and willingness to take off your company hat to see that teamwork may well lessen conflict. I am a fan of collaboration because it forces us to look at the world from a 360 degree position with more objectivity. Collaborative negotiations are the gateway to long-term business relationships.
6) Always Have A Back Up Plan- I cannot tell you how many times I have seen intelligent business people go into a large business negotiation with only one plan. Not only is this not recommended --it’s limp. So much is riding on one outcome that the negotiator loses agility and flexibility. If the single plan is not agreed to by the other side, you are left with going back to the drawing board or you have conflict with your negotiation partner. Professional negotiators would rarely consider going into a large bargaining session with only one plan. They always have at least two plans or more ranked by revenue risk and strategic importance. Professional negotiators refer to a back-up plan as a BATNA or a “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”. If you want to reduce conflict in your next important negotiation, quietly go in with a BATNA. Remember introducing quiet, conflict-reducing processes in business negotiation is not weak --it’s smart! You don’t have to be a bully to win!!
“Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not in conflict; and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war.” - William McKinley
About the Author:
Patrick Tinney is a Certified Print Production Practitioner (CPPP). He is a double graduate of Sheridan College, a founding Director of the Flyer Distribution Standards Association of Canada and a member of the Canadian Society of Training and Development. Patrick is also an active Advisory Committee member for the Sheridan College, Advertising Program. Patrick is the founder of Centroid Training and Marketing. For more information or to comment, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.