I’m sure you realize that we all negotiate every day of our lives. From the moment the Doctor slapped you on the bottom and you started to cry, you started to negotiate.
Some people envision that to negotiate means to sit across a small table at a car dealer. Of course, that is, but the principles of negotiation are in play in pretty much everything you do.
This is especially true for leaders. The most important test of a leader is how well he or she does at influencing other people to do what needs to be done. In this brief article I will describe my fix on how you can tell the level of your negotiating skill. It is one of my favorite measures for the quality of leadership.
Most leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.
They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.
Simultaneously great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.
Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems. You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.
A key attitude for successful negotiations is to recognize that the best ones are where the parties seek out solutions that work for both of them. Too many leaders seek ways to win in negotiations at the expense of the other party. That implies that the other party loses.
The best negotiators keep working to find solutions that work to the advantage of both sides. It is always possible to find ways to have both parties better off.
The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.
So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)
1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.
2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions are as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.
3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.
4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.
5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can as early as possible.
6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.
7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they do not share the sentiments of everyone.
8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.
9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.
10. Build Trust: Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.
11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.
12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.
13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.
14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.
These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization.
Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are much more effective.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-392-7763.