Amber has a BS in human resources and organizational behavior from CSU Sacramento and is currently getting her MS in HR management.
Negotiations Are Opportunities, Not Conflicts
We must learn to advocate for ourselves if we want to become successful at our jobs. Negotiating to ensure our professional wants and needs are met is essential to our success. However, this is often an extremely underdeveloped skill.
Negotiations are often approached with the same trepidation someone would approach a conflict rather than with the optimism of approaching an opportunity for professional growth. How are we supposed to advocate for what we want, knowing it is often in conflict with the wants of the other person? Here are five tips to help you achieve a win-win negotiation.
Always Be Prepared
In their book The Hidden Rules of Successful Negotiation and Communication: Getting to Yes!, Opresnik stresses the importance of being prepared. If you don’t take the time to research your options, strategies, and even your negotiation opponent, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage and are much more likely to fail (Opresnik, 2014).
The first step is to understand what success means to you. What goal do you want to achieve from this negotiation? This is known as a zone of possible agreement (ZOPA). If, for example, you are looking to negotiate a raise at work, your ZOPA would be a range of numbers you are willing to accept.
What happens if your negotiation partner won’t budge and give in to any of your goals? This is where you prepare for a worst-case scenario or the best alternative to negotiated agreement (BATNA). In our pay raise example, a BATNA could potentially be negotiating a better benefits package in exchange for a lower monetary amount.
"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
— Benjamin Franklin
Use Case-Specific Negotiating
Case-specific arguments involve finding data that will support your specific goals. Part of preparing for a negotiation is anticipating potential counterarguments from your opponent.
When you have a clear understanding of your own goals, then the field of potential counterarguments is narrowed significantly, which will allow you to use case-specific negotiating. This is also where specific research will come in handy. Lots of information is readily available to you if you know what you are looking for.
Once again, let’s look at this concept in the context of a negotiation for a raise. How can we prepare for an argument that you are asking for an amount that your opponent thinks is way too high? You can research if your company has a policy surrounding raises, such as a minimum cost of living adjustment for everyone who performs well throughout the year. You can also find data to prove the amount is comparable to the market rate for your position.
Additionally, maybe you have performed exceptionally well this year and have proof of your achievements. This is all valuable data to research and bring to a negotiation to help you succeed. This strategy is also known as finding integrative interests (Opresnik, 2014). The goal is to find ways to find places where both parties' needs intersect and to focus on those.
What Do You Know About Your Opponent?
Are they known as the type of manager who makes high preformance their top priority? Focus more on your achievments in your arguments to create integrated interests.
Consider Your Opponent's Emotional State
This is often an overlooked aspect of negotiations; I believe due to many people believing it is out of their control. This is not completely true. Opresnik advises the reader to pay special attention to the self-esteem of their opponent. It is human nature to seek validation from others, and this can be a useful tip to remember if you are seeking to create a long-term relationship with your negotiation opponent.
Compliments given in earnest about their achievements or performance can go a long way toward creating a positive, relaxed atmosphere during a negotiation (Opresnik, 2014). Some examples would be, “I saw the speech you gave at the last conference, and I really enjoyed it!” or “I really admire the work you did on that project!” The key is these compliments must be honest and focused on achievements/performance, not physical appearance.
Use Both Overt and Tacit Communication to Your Advantage
Creating a positive atmosphere also depends on your use of both overt and tacit communication techniques. Overt communication is what is being said out loud. It is the most direct form of communication, and in this situation where contracts and legal matters are being discussed, your ability to communicate your goals clearly and directly will be very important.
On the other hand, we cannot underestimate how important tacit communication can be to a negotiation. Tacit communication is any form of indirect communication, like your body language and your tone of voice. When we are trying to communicate with others, the message often ends up being sifted through multiple filters before it reaches the other person. An example of how these filters work can be found in Professor Schulz von Thun's four-sided communication square (see figure 1).
In Professor Schulz von Thun's model, a message first goes through your own biases on the self-revelation side. As the person communicating the message, you have presented the message in a way that you, yourself, will understand. The message can then be affected by your relationship with the person you are communicating with and their assumptions about you, the facts you have at your disposal, and the appeal you have to the listener to understand your message (Opresnik, 2014).
Let’s look at an example. If you were going to be late to work because you got a flat tire, you would probably communicate that concept very differently to your boss and your friends. The relationship side of the communication square could potentially make it very acceptable or even expected to communicate with swear words and jokes to your friends, but in many environments, that would get a very negative reaction from a boss.
We tend to filter what we are saying through different parts of the square model depending on the situation. Having a better understanding of how we communicate will allow us to see where we can improve and create a better knowledge and understanding of how to avoid miscommunications.
Potential Negotiation Gambits
A valuable negotiation gambit that can contribute to a win-win scenario is to make contingent concessions. Contingent concessions are a way to make it abundantly clear to your negotiation opponent that you are giving up something to make them happy, and in return, they will need to give up something as well (Shonk, 2022). This strategy works best if you are confident that you have a good idea of your opponent’s ZOPA and BATNA.
Let’s say that your opponent is very concerned about your raise not exceeding 4%. It is the main demand of their zone of possible agreement. Even if that amount is at the lower end of your ZOPA and, therefore, an acceptable compromise, you can still turn this situation into a contingent concession. You will accept 4%, but only if they accept another one of your own terms, like more PTO this year. This provides your opponent with the sense that they won. They convinced you to change your demands to one that was most important to them, therefore, creating a win-win scenario.
Another gambit is called the contrast principle. The technical definition of the contrast principle is that “we experience the difference between multiple stimuli presented to us in rapid succession” (Opresnik, p. 114, 2014). In other words, people tend to compare the last similar experience with what they are currently experiencing.
A good example of this is to set up three bowls of water. The left bowl has ice cubes added to the water, the middle bowl is room temperature, and the bowl on the right has hot water inside. If you were to dip your left hand into the ice water and your right hand into the hot water for a minute and then dunk them both into the room temperature water at the same time, they would both experience that temperature differently.
Compared to the ice water, room temperature water is quite warm, and compared to the hot water, room temperature water feels cold. You can use this unconscious bias to your advantage in negotiations if you consider what your opponent is using as a comparison.
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Kaupins, G., & Casperson, T. (2010). Toward a Taxonomy of Negotiation Gambits. International Journal of Business & Public Administration, 7(2), 23–36.
Opresnik, M. O. (2014). The hidden rules of successful negotiation and communication: Getting to yes! [Skillsoft Books24x7 version]. Retrieved from http://common.books24x7.com/toc.aspx?bookid=76725
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.