The Basics of Negotiation

NegotiationThe word ‘negotiation’ tends to conjure images of suits, handshakes, boardrooms, leather briefcases and fresh notepads. This vision is not necessarily incorrect. What used to be known as ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ is no longer truly alternative as many law firms and companies embrace negotiation and mediation over the more expensive route that is litigation.

In reality though, negotiation is not reserved for corporate high-fliers. Most of us need to negotiate constantly in daily life. If you’re a small business owner, you will need to negotiate with suppliers, customers and retailers. We also negotiate with our spouses, children and friends. There are few parents who have not given into bargaining tactics that look a little something like this: ‘if you want to have/eat [insert shiny new toy or sugary snack du jour] you will have to eat/do [insert some form of green vegetable/household chore].’

Whether your negotiation takes place in a sleek boardroom, over coffee meetings or in the back of a family SUV, having some clever negotiation tricks up your sleeve are always useful. So, if you identify with any or all of the above scenarios, you can brush up your negotiation skills by getting your hands on a copy of Getting to Yes.  This hugely successful negotiation guide by Fisher and Ury, was first published in 1981. Some excellent negotiation tips to take from it are:

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
    This can be easier said than done. The foundation of this principle is to view the person you are negotiating with as a partner in negotiation rather than an opponent. Where either or both parties are emotional about an issue, those emotions can hinder the negotiation process. Sometimes, emotions can be effectively diffused by one party making an apology. You can express regret over a situation without necessarily accepting guilt or blame.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
    Your position in a negotiation is your end goal, and represents what you want to get out of the negotiation. Your interests are your underlying reasons for wanting that particular end goal. When the parties focus on their interests, rather than their positions, they might find that they have more in common than they realise. Focussing on mutual interests can go a long way to helping the parties find common ground and ultimately achieving an end goal that will serve the interests of both.
  3. Invent creative solutions.
    Once negotiation partners have established some common interests, it will be easier to brainstorm creative solutions. Often there are a myriad of possible outcomes or options. Many of those solutions will not be win/lose situations, but instead, will have benefits for both parties. Think as creatively as possible. Sometimes wild ideas can lead to alternative solutions that will ultimately produce a successful resolution.

Maria van der Walt
Lawyer, North Lakes
STOLaw, part of the Slater and Gordon Group
07 3482 0500