Melbourne Business School News Developing your negotiation capability

Developing your negotiation capability

Do senior managers really need to negotiate and if so, how do they develop the skills?

Lisa Barrand considers negotiation to be a troublesome word due to the negative images it evokes in the average individual. It evokes single issue interactions that most people don’t like or enjoy and that they consider are unconnected with their role as a manager.

“Most people think about the word ‘negotiation’ and instantly call up an image of buying a car or a house, a single issue transaction with people that you never see again. Alternatively, they think of procurement. For these reasons, most managers would say that they are not very good at negotiation.”

Lisa is a Melbourne Business School Executive Education associate specialising in negotiation and strategy and one of the founding directors at Negotiation Education Australia with more than 15 years’ experience in executive education.

Lisa points out that it is impossible for managers to avoid negotiation in the workplace. Negotiation is often mistakenly thought of as the ability to sell the benefits of a project or task to others in order to get them to agree to the terms being proposed.

To the contrary, negotiation involves crafting agreements in such a way that those involved and impacted are invested in the outcome and committed to achieving it. The intention is to create an outcome whereby stakeholders are motivated to take the action they pledged to take within the scope of the project. If framed properly, the process of negotiation provides opportunities for the development and achievement of better outcomes for all involved.

The ability to negotiate is more than just a set of skills. It is also a process and strategy that will assist in achieving the outcomes required through jointly decided action with other parties. In the workplace this can include negotiations with colleagues, suppliers, or contractors, and could occur within a team, or with external stakeholders.

Based on her experience with clients, Lisa is convinced that negotiation skills can be developed, practised and improved. Such development is quickly becoming essential in light of the increase in delegated responsibility in modern workplaces. Individual contributors in technical roles and lower levels of management are increasingly being required to take responsibility for negotiating agreements. More junior managers are being asked to step up and in many cases do not have the tools to help them do it.

“Then we have really good, well intentioned, dedicated managers doing their best and often succeeding. But they are also feeling quite overwhelmed by a lack of structure and methodology to how they are approaching their negotiating and influencing work.”

Negotiation skills and strategies can be learnt and improved. There are strategies and processes that managers can follow that will improve their abilities and confidence as a negotiator, as well as improve outcomes and competence in negotiation strategies. Managers must develop the ability to prepare for a negotiation, elicit an understanding of the interests of other parties involved, develop skills for mutual problem solving and idea generation and know how to claim value for themselves and their stakeholders within the process.

When done properly, negotiation presents opportunities to engage constructively with others to come up with a better outcome that is great for you and good for the other party. Negotiation is really just about the methodology, processes and skills used to come to this outcome.

Negotiation is fundamental to success. The skills developed by a good negotiator are the skills that lead to better organisational outcomes, better team outcomes and better interpersonal agreements. Effective negotiation is the key to successful change processes, implementation of major work projects and the development of organisational strategy. Managers who are effective negotiators understand the need to achieve and further the interests of their organisation but can also find ways to help others succeed by finding an aspiration for all involved to work towards.

“The key word is impact. A manager working toward achieving their own responsibilities and accountabilities but also using a practical negotiation framework is more likely to consider the needs of all stakeholders and develop a higher value negotiated agreement as opposed to a technically led roll out that is simply imposed.”

Lisa Barrand is an Associate of Melbourne Business School Executive Education and Program Director for theEmerging Managers Program which has a heavy focus on negotiation, influencing and coaching skills that can be immediately applied in the workplace.