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How to be a good negotiator (and why it is so important)

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Steve Gates, author of The Negotiation Book - shortlisted in the Practical Manager category of the Management Book of the Year 2017 - offers some key points to help ensure you succeed.

Negotiation; one of the most important skills in profitable business.

No other skill gives you a better chance of optimising both your own success and the profitability of your deals. Most people believe they are good negotiators - but I challenge that perception.

Denial, ego, experience, familiarity amongst others are the more obvious barriers to thinking differently about how to build agreements.

It is human beings that negotiate agreements and human beings that can build or destroy value based on their competence, self-awareness and ability to engage from ‘inside the head’ of others.

A question often asked is whether good negotiators are trained or born? Does an individual’s inherent personality help them to secure better deals? Is the ability to think on your feet or to stare down the opposition a useful attribute or just a measure of nerve?

For many, the challenges presented by negotiation do not come naturally and, while ego and personality can occasionally drive deals home, more often they can have the opposite effect if not kept in check.

There are ‘Ten Negotiation Traits’ (assertiveness, caution, creativity, curiosity, humility, instinct, nerve, numerical reasoning, self-discipline, tenacity) that directly influence the negotiator’s actions and which can be developed through a more considered approach to negotiation.

So what will negotiation do to you and what it will take for you to perform as a negotiator?

There has been a rapid change in what people and companies are negotiating over and the value attributed to time, risk, convenience, and information in response to the benefits of technology.

Information access has become as valuable as payment terms, response service times as important as contract length. Technology is changing what is possible, what is expected, and what is traded, which is providing a new mix of variables featuring in all types of agreements.

Negotiators need to look for increased advantage in every negotiation irrespective or industry or size of deal. To do this, they need to consider a few key points:

The importance of planning, dynamics and strategies: 90% of the successful outcome of any negotiation is rooted in the planning. Successful planning and strategies can enable the negotiator to take control of any situation, to understand the interests, priorities, and values to the other party, to understand their position, the conditioning and anchoring for what they are.

The psychology, tactics and behaviours of negotiation: Effective negotiation requires the ability to stay calm. To trust instinct. To understand that power, real or perceived, will play its part in every relationship dynamic. A Complete Skilled Negotiator must know the importance of what they are trying to achieve whilst getting into the head of the person sitting opposite to understand equally what their goals are.

How to conduct successful win–win negotiations: A successful negotiation is one where you mutually agree to sustainable agreements which are built to optimise total value. Each of us has an opportunity to influence the outcome, to turn any situation into a workable, profitable deal irrespective of the market, personalities, timing, available options, power balance or any other the other dynamics which - if you allow - can work against you, rather than give you the competitive advantage.

Further reading

The Negotiation Book: Your Definitive Guide to Successful Negotiating (2nd edition). Wiley, 2015.

This book is available to read in the British Library in London, along with all the shortlisted books in Management Book of the Year.

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