Negotiation is something that all of us do, typically multiple times a day – from business deals, to work with colleagues, to matters at home with family and friends. Negotiation is an essential part of strategic development for any organization. These negotiations can be external or internal (i.e., setting priorities, etc.). Regardless of the parties involved, the fundamental goal is the same – negotiation is a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.
When we think negotiations and business, we often think of lawyers. Well, I had the good fortune of meeting Susan H. Alexander, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary for Biogen Idec recently. As steering committee chair for the annual Triangle Women Against Multiple Sclerosis (WAMS) luncheon, I had the privilege of welcoming Susan as one of our esteemed panelists at our recent WAMS event in the Research Triangle Park area. Susan provided insightful, yet very simple and straight-forward negotiation tips that she credits her parents with providing to her. I thought that her tips were so compelling, that I wanted to share them here for the over 200 business women and men that attended WAMS, as well as for others.
Susan Alexander’s 10 Tips for Negotiation:
Definition: Negotiation is nothing more than a dialogue between people that is intended to reach an agreement or understanding.
The 10 simple rules of negotiation I learned from my parents:
#1 Be yourself – We all have a personal style and a way of communicating and persuading that is natural to us. We are most comfortable and will be most successful operating in this style. Don’t try to be a gorilla if you are naturally a gazelle.
#2 Do your homework – Everything goes better when you are well-prepared and negotiation is no exception. Try to learn and understand as much as you can about your counterparty, their objectives, needs, constraints, and motivation.
#3 Mind your manners – Be culturally sensitive and be polite. We all want to be respected and all people are more inclined to accommodate people who are considerate of them.
#4 Be honest – Trust is critical to successful negotiation. The best way to build trust in any relationship is to be unfailingly honest and to behave as if trust already exists.
#5 Listen – Listening carefully to your counterparty will not only help you find new opportunities for win/win outcomes, but also will help build trust and encourage accommodation.
#6 Take turns and let the other person go first – Don’t negotiate against yourself (even in your head) and don’t expect your counterparty to. If you let the other person go first, you will learn more about their position and motivation and can adjust yours.
#7 Take your time – Don’t be made to feel pressured. Thinking is not weak, it is smart. If you don’t know, you don’t have to answer right away. It’s ok to say I have to think about things and take a break.
#8 Don’t be greedy – Try to achieve your maximum objectives and don’t settle for less than your minimum objectives or your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, but stop short of leaving your counterparty vanquished and whimpering before you. There is such a thing as too good a deal.
# 9 It’s OK to say no – If you really can’t give something that is being asked of you, it is ok to just say no. Don’t be afraid of the silence that may follow. Let your counterpart wonder how to fill it.
# 10 Don’t fall for just anybody – When you are negotiating, the momentum to complete a transaction can be very powerful. Be careful not to love the idea of any deal so much, that you can’t walk away, or let your counterparty walk away. It’s OK; the goal of negotiation is to achieve your objectives, not to complete a transaction.
I could not agree more with Susan’s tips. There have been so many studies, books, and articles written on negotiation strategies, but I have to say, Susan’s tips are simple, real, and implementable in ANY negotiation situation! My personal favorite of all the tips is: #1 Be yourself. Often times, I see people in situations looking for resolution and they are not behaving in their natural way – perhaps it is due to the urgency with which they feel they need to get to their desired outcome. However, acting “tough” or outside of a usual demeanor adds an automatic tension to any situation/negotiation. This rarely yield success, or at least success everyone feels good about. The next time you find yourself in a negotiation, take a moment and before the first words are uttered or e-mail sent, look in the mirror and be grounded in who you are. By doing so, you will automatically, start off on the right foot!