Conversations are the general exchange of thoughts, words, ideas, directives, and messages. Conversations are one of the main vehicles of communication. Most of us would say that we have conversations every day. What is the most important experience of a conversation?
When people talk, they want to get something across to others ranging in importance from sharing a reflection about the weather such as “it’s pretty warm today” to an expression of position or an idea like “I refuse to go further without a compromise.” Pause for a moment and think about a conversation that you had today, what was your intended purpose? What connection was experienced? What clarity was gained? What information was shared? How did it bring connection or how did it block connection?
Negotiation can be defined as a conversation or a discussion that helps people reach an agreement. Each person communicates their position on an issue hoping to create a mutual way forward. As in a conversation they are sharing thoughts, words, ideas, directives, messages, and requests. Very much like conversations, we negotiate every day.
The reality is that every conversation you have within your business – whether working with your teams, conveying vision to the employees, navigating conflict among key people – is a negotiation of some sort, but we have not linked them that way. When leaders are preparing for a conversation, they can get nervous, lose sight of what is important to themselves and/or the other party. More detrimental is when leaders plan the power play even sometimes blanking on the very basics of how to communicate. Showing up with an internal, preconceived narrative about negotiation, there is a risk of not being authentic, present, and oftentimes not listening.
What if we change or reframe the way we see negotiation? What if, instead of a negotiation being a tug-of-war, a negotiation became a conversation towards a mutually agreed upon desired outcome? Starting with this perspective creates a prompt for the sharing of thoughts, ideas, expectations, and desired outcomes.
Entering a conversation does not have to feel like entering a combat zone. Rather than preparing for battle, prepare by identifying very clearly what you want, followed by consideration of what you believe the other party wants as well. Once you have a sense of both of those desires, then spend a few minutes preparing yourself for an honest dialogue.
Perhaps helpful to this negotiation preparation is to borrow from the pillars of great conversations. Great conversations have defined characteristics and expectations.
Pillars of Great Conversations
Mutual – Both people want to be in the conversation.
Listen – Parties desire to not just hear what is being said but to understand what is being said.
Inquire – Seek clarity by inquiring about the meaning, intention the desired outcome of the other person or people.
Request – Ask for what is wanted or needed without being ambiguous or vague.
Win – What is the mutual concern? How might we both win in ways that are important to us?
Agree – What was agreed upon and where do we go from here?
Conclude – Next steps.
These are pillars of great conversations; they are also pillars of great negotiations. With all conversations being negotiations, there is no need to approach negotiating with fear, trepidation, and especially not intimidation.
The Pillars in Action
What do the pillars look like in action?
Mutual – Both people agree to a set time, place, and date for the conversation/negotiation.
Listen – What is the main point of what the other person is trying to convey? What is your main point?
Inquire – What else do you need or want to know about what is being said or offered? Do not assume, ask for clarity, more details, meaning, scope, and intention.
Request – What do you want? What does the other person want? Where do those wants meet or where is there a gap? Fine-tune and request again if necessary.
Win – Define what a win is for the other person and yourself.
Agree – You do not have to agree with exactly the way the other person sees or approaches a situation. Post conversation, the agreement clarifies where each per stands.
Conclude – What is the next step? How will you move forward? Will you work together? Will you accept the job offer at the proposed salary? Will you take time to think about it? Will you ask for a follow-up meeting? Good conversations and negotiations are not cliffhangers. While there may be more to work out, both parties leave the meeting with a sense of progress, connection, feeling heard, and understanding of what is happening next. Few things are more frustrating than leaving a meeting not knowing what is expected to happen next.
Negotiating is a skill that when done well leads to powerful, transparent, and positive outcomes.
In his article, How Effective Leaders Prepare for Negotiations, Sam Bacharach, director of the Cornell Institute for Workplace Studies says it this way:
“When we talk about negotiations, I think we’re talking about an essential leadership skill. The one thing leaders do, day in and day out, is negotiate. Negotiation is not something that’s sort of restricted labor-management crisis, or a Middle East crisis. Negotiation is something you do all the time. You negotiate all the time. You do it all the time. It is what I call a micro-skill.”
Reframe negotiations by linking them to conversational pillars.
True negotiations are about moving things forward and making progress. As Sam said, they require preparation, not just of the content of the negotiation, but preparing the approach. They include an exchange of ideas and bravery to ask for what is needed or desired. Approaching a negotiation like a conversation can dispel the tension and allow both parties to be contributors to the negotiation instead of controllers of the process.
The next time you are in a negotiation, think of it as a conversation. Use the pillars. Listen, inquire, seek clarity, and a mutual win. At the end of the meeting ask what is next.
Not only is there a powerful link between conversation and negotiation, but there is also the possibility of powerful outcomes.
Prepare to have a conversation, not a tug-of-war.
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