Negotiation is in the fabric of every business relationship. If negotiation conjures up a vision of hostile people sitting across the table from each other and debating terms and conditions of a sales or labor union contract, think again.
Many situations in companies could give rise to opportunities for negotiation. How about a simple telephone chat between two employees to discuss changes in a sales tracking system? Or a conversation between team members outlining how responsibilities should be delegated? Every task could be a call for negotiation.
Instead of seeing negotiations as adversarial, where one wins and the other loses, it’s much healthier (and more successful) to view them as an opportunity to strengthen long-term relationships and business results. Here are eight principles that will support your improved approach to negotiation. The more you practice, the higher the likelihood that these principles will help reduce anxiety and stress, remove fears, and energize every business interaction.
These eight rules are adopted from basic principles in Indian philosophy. Chakra is a word from Sanskrit. Chakra means “a wheel.” The Communications Signal and the Seven Rules in this book are the eight spokes of the chakra or wheel of negotiation principles. This wheel blends the contemplative mindset of Indian philosophy with the independent thinking, time- and results-driven US business psychology. The chakra also denotes the seven subtle energy centers in the human body and keeping them balanced promotes good health by maximizing energy flow. Mainstream medicine does not discuss these subtle energies in our bodies. Likewise, the principles in this book are subtle and may not be the strategies taught in mainstream negotiation classes.
1. Find a Common Understanding of the Problem–The Communications Signal
Communication is a conversation that concludes in common understanding—it is not one-sided like telling or conveying a message. It is like the traffic signal where telling is a red light and produces a reaction. The client tells you, “I need the report sooner,” and you get upset. Conveying a message, where the client gives the reason for the demand, is the yellow light and makes you pause to think. The green light signifies communication where a common understanding occurs between you and the client, and it is safe to go without fear of accidents. Most negotiations occur at red lights, where one party is telling and the other is reacting.
Take a vendor-client situation where the business intelligence report generated by the vendor has several errors. The client thinks the problem is with the analysts assigned to the project by the vendor, and the vendor concludes that the data provided by the client was inaccurate. No matter where the error originated, this conversation is stuck at a red light.
In negotiation meetings, both sides often launch into a heated discussion about a solution without even agreeing on the basic problem. The first order of things is to figure out the problem, not who is at fault. Negotiation is all in the timing. If you constantly react to client demands rather than working your way to a mutual understanding of the problem, you will exhaust your resources and weaken the relationship.
2. Your Goal Dictates Success
A goal is a realistic and measurable target established to guide the negotiation with the business relationship in mind. Choose it wisely, not based on something very transient like a quick-win that satisfies one’s desires. If your goal is too narrow or ill-defined, it’s going to be harder to decide which negotiation tactics will lead to success. Most negotiations miss the mark because the goal is not clear or is perhaps too narrow or short term in focus.
When you’re setting your goal, focus on what both parties need. What are your requirements for the negotiation? And what are the objectives of the other side? Sometimes negotiations get bogged down in each side’s desires instead of figuring out what is fundamental for both parties.
3. Ask What, Not Who
Harmonious relationships are central to negotiations. If one party feels aggrieved, it’s going to be much more difficult to come to a resolution. One way to keep your relationships healthy is to stop pointing fingers when things go wrong.
Typically, when problems arise, the first reaction is to ask who’s to blame. That’s not a productive course of action because it only works to heighten tensions and shame the person or people who are responsible. Instead, take ownership of the problem. Ownership does not mean assuming blame. It means defining the problem with the solution in mind and moving forward.
Just because something went wrong in the project does not mean that all efforts are wasted. Acknowledging the effort and showing gratitude makes everyone part of the solution. Focus on what went wrong and what the best solution would be. Keep your attention on the purpose and goals of your team, not on scapegoats.
People create the world around them. One’s surroundings are not the cause of anyone’s problem. How they perceive it is the problem. If they accept that, then the solution is within their reach. If they don’t own the problem, they cannot own the solution. Often, the solution to workplace problems is not in the workplace itself. It’s inside you.
4. Dare to Dream
Intention, or “Sankalpa” in Sanskrit, is a powerful influence in your life. If client success is your intention, then you can dare to dream big, but not if you intend to get whatever you can from the client. If you go into a negotiation with a negative or limited mindset, you are less likely to have a happy outcome. Dreams, hopes, and intentions (Sankalpa) drive positive negotiations. People can sense when you’re confident, empathetic, and positive; they know when you’re out to “win” and when you’re looking for the best possible solution for both parties.
You need to put yourself on a higher plane to get past negative thoughts and pettiness. In negotiation, you can’t change other people, but you can prepare yourself with a positive outlook. When you perceive yourself as the product of external influences, you spend your time trying in vain to change the surrounding people rather than looking within to see how you can change yourself to be successful in the existing environment.
Fear stands in the way of dreams. In negotiations, there are four common types of fear: fear of the outcome, fear of losing support from management, fear of conflict, and fear of failure. None of them bode well for developing long-term relationships with your colleagues and clients.
5. Say It Only If You Believe It
Successful negotiators are always confident. Period.
I’m not talking about overconfidence, though. I’m talking about the kind of confidence that comes from integrity and conviction. If you believe in the options you are presenting to your client during a negotiation, the client will be much more likely to value your perspective. The litmus test is asking yourself, “Would I accept the option if I were in the client’s shoes?” If your answer is no or not sure, then revisit your options.
Don’t go into a negotiation armed with data you’re unclear about, options you’re not convinced by, or talking points that don’t feel essential. Go in with the power of conviction and belief.
6. Respond, Don’t React
When negotiations get tense, people often tend to let their emotions get the best of them. They react in anger, which only escalates the tensions and makes it harder to find a resolution to the problem at hand. Two topics that get people hot under the collar are comparisons to competition and challenges to one’s competence—hurts their ego.
If the other person brings up competition or questions the validity of your statements, and you feel yourself getting riled up, pause. Take a moment to consider, “Why did the other person say that? What’s their motivation, and what’s at stake for them?” Sometimes things don’t come out the right way, and they didn’t mean what they said. Or sometimes, their anxieties and fears are clouding their judgment. Pausing to respond thoughtfully, rather than reacting impulsively, will keep your negotiations on track.
Ego plays a big hand in our reactions. Ego gives one a sense of identification. You identify who you are by the role you play in life or at work. “I am the head of this department” gives one a sense of responsibility and power. When you abandon that responsibility and become attached to power of being right, problems arise.
7. Be Open-Minded
Màyà is a trick of the human mind. A well-known analogy for this is a person, walking in the dark, who sees a rope and mistakes it for a snake. Whenever the intellect does not understand something correctly, it projects its interpretations.
When assumptions and suspicions cloud people’s minds, they are not negotiating. They are bargaining. Bargaining is all about short-term gain. Maybe you hammered out the fine print of a contract or bargained a price down, but at the end of the day, that’s not going to build a lasting relationship.
Negotiation requires open-mindedness, generosity, and open communication. If you enter with preconceptions about the other party or with a die-hard agenda, you aren’t leaving room for better, more creative solutions to your problems. When you’re open-minded, you realize that you are all in the room to help each other, and everyone adds value. You aren’t the only right person in the room.
8. Don’t Mess with Silence
Silence is not a tool to be used to unnerve the other person in accepting your offer. Silence is important for creating balance. When you’re silent, it creates space for contemplation and stillness. Silence is a powerful tool for resolving conflicts, and it can de-escalate situations that are becoming too emotional.
Silence can also help you quiet your mind. It can ease self-doubt or anxiety. Listening to soft music or inspirational talks, taking a walk, and reading a book are some techniques to maintain your inner stillness. Meditation helps. It slows your breath. If you notice, your breathing turns rapid when your emotions rise. Keeping your mind synchronized with a slow breath prevents you from reacting. It aids the steadiness of purpose.
Negotiation Is Collaboration
A business relationship cannot be one-sided. There must be a balance. You cannot always concede or compromise, just as you cannot always insist on your position at all costs. Relationships require people to be mindful of their behaviors. These eight principles for the right negotiation mindset yield results while maintaining business relationships.
How powerful would it be if everyone had a common understanding of these rules, and practiced them so that everyone would come together on a level playing field? If everyone treated negotiation this way, it would give real meaning to the often-used term “collaboration.”
Mala Subramaniam is a corporate speaker, executive coach, and cross-cultural trainer who offers a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies for negotiations. She spent over twenty years in influential marketing and strategy roles at global companies such as IBM, GE Healthcare, and Dun & Bradstreet. Mala has led webinars and onsite courses, and provided coaching for Cognizant and Meltwater, among others. Her cross-cultural talks have reached Lincoln Financial, The Hartford, Comcast, and more across the US and India.