Understanding is fundamental to negotiation. You must understand the proposal under discussion and the options available. You must understand what each party involved in the discussions seeks to gain from the discussion. If the discussion is composed of groups of individuals you should understand the goals of the individuals and the goals of the groups (which may differ).
You must also understand what you bring to the table and what you are prepared to concede. By knowing what you have to ‘trade’ you can enter the discussion with an open mind and flexibility. Ideally you should know this before you enter negotiations but sometimes this isn’t possible.
Empathy is understanding the emotions of those involved. Emotion can cloud communication or it can enhance it but it cannot be excluded. As human beings we react to things on an instinctive emotional level and, like it or not, this dictates much of our reactions. By understanding the basic feelings of individuals in a negotiation it is possible for you to appeal to them on a more direct level than simple logic.
Successful negotiations are built on trust. Without trust there can be no true compromise and therefore no solution. If the concessions you offer are insincere or grudging, then you will get an equally grudging response from other parties involved. Often it is the responsibility of the project manager, who holds a pivotal position, to take the lead by establishing a basis of trust between the parties involved. By setting the standards a project manager establishes the basis for negotiations and the tone in which they are conducted. This can often be done by a simple appraisal of the facts and an appeal for assistance to the parties involved. Something like “I understand we have a problem and I expect everyone here to contribute to the solution” often works wonders.
Once the fundamentals have been dealt with, a discussion of the problem usually ensues. The discussion should be conducted on a rational basis avoiding violent emotions. The problem should be clearly stated and agreed upon and solutions offered. During this stage of the discussion it is essential that all parties contribute. Silence is not acceptable. Comments should be sought from everyone, their concerns aired, addressed and hopefully resolved. Failure to do so will leave one or more parties feeling disenfranchised or disenchanted.
Once the various solutions have been discussed a possible solution can be proposed and if it is acceptable to all, taken forward. If not, some form of compromise must be hammered out and each party must be ready to conceding elements of their requirements in order to find a solution. Each party must then signify their willingness to accept the compromise and move forward.
Rolling over and sticking your feet in the air to have your tummy tickled does NOT constitute a win-win situation ! Don’t enter into negotiations with the expectation that you will have to make all the concessions to reach a consensus. This will leave you feeling vulnerable and powerless.
This is known as a “win-lose” outcome.
You should enter into the negotiation with the expectation that everyone present will be able to give-and-take on their respective issues and work with them to achieve a suitable outcome. You should set your own minimum level of expectations and not be satisfied with the process until you have achieved it.
Nick Jenkins is an IT manager with 10 years experience in software development, project management and software testing. He’s worked in various fields of IT development in Australia, Britain and the USA and occasionally he learned something along the way. Now he lives on the banks of the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia, and he publishes the odd guide to help aspiring IT professionals. Nick’s website can be found at www.nickjenkins.net.