You visited my company to each negotiation skills recently. I’ve tried for new behaviors but seem to have only two options: wuss out or come on too strong. How can I manage conflict with more confidence?
You have my empathy. I’ve been wrangling for years with conflict habits. Just when I think I’ve overcome a weakness, it rears its head in a new way. I can usually share the story with training audiences the next day but in some cases, it takes time for embarrassment to wear off. For example, when I stop myself from interrupting in an argument, I often lead with a “you’re wrong and here’s why” when it’s my turn to talk. Not good. Perhaps it’s key is to expect a lifelong crash course in communication, finding clues and mentors along the way. If we look at emotional intelligence skills (negotiating, public speaking, writing, service, managing change, supervising, etc.) as “you’ve got it or you don’t”, we get discouraged. Some people give up. And that’s a shame, because we’re never too old to turn vulnerabilities into strengths.
I’ll offer tips I try to live by, but please interpret them to work for you. The most gifted negotiator I’ve had the luck to learn from is Mark, my oldest brother. Familial debate was a sport in my house growing up. No doubt he learned many life skills from our parents, but they went looking for him when bargaining outcomes were at stake. He recently negotiated with a casino to get them to reset payout software to player advantage. He told me the agreement was “only fair”. But who negotiates with a casino and wins? He demonstrates confidence, poise, and concern for the other’s position and it pays off.
Here’s how can you negotiate to win, or find a win-win:
Rule 1: Never negotiate against yourself. State your position, then pause. Don’t offer a price reduction followed by another discount, or any concession followed by another. Try to let the other party suggest the first dollar figure or data point. Learn their ideal outcome and plan your approach accordingly.
Rule 2: Figure out what the market will bear. Stifle your urge to name a price point. Ask what the company is considering, then make an honest case as to why your skills fall near the top of that range. Simple dialogue, missed by many. As Mark says, “Don’t you have something good you can do with that money?” If you’re not comfortable negotiating, plan to give additional earnings to your favorite charity. Motivated!
Rule 3: Do your homework ahead of time so you can introduce relevant discussion points. This is vital to collaboration or compromise.
Rule 4: Play the hand you’re dealt. Sometimes you should be assertive, sometimes you should just shut up. What’s your desired outcome? Does your reaction yield that outcome? If not, why demonstrate it?
Rule 5: Let logic lead. Don’t act on your bias (we all have them), use EQ and emotional control. You don’t have to like the person to succeed. When I hesitated to negotiate, Mark calculated the time I’d need to engage and outlined the money left on the table if I quit too soon. (“Isn’t $X/minute worth it to you?”) Motivated!
Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Conduct of Life muses that “every calamity is a spur and valuable hint.” How we handle disagreement indicates how we feel about ourselves. Conflict management never means running from it or being eager to fight. Instead, it’s communication that allows a solution when problems arise. If you’d like a copy of our 1-page conflict skills self-assessment from a recent workplace training event, please get in touch. You might find a valuable goal for the year ahead.