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6 Steps to Successful Negotiation

Andy Roark, DVM, MSc, Cleveland Park Animal Hospital, Greenville, South Carolina

September / October 2013|Web-Exclusive

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“All life is a negotiation”―Anonymous

Most people negotiate several times every day in both their personal situations and professional lives, but few actually understand or consciously use negotiation skills,1 let alone try to improve this vital skill or consider its value.2

Successful negotiation requires planning, research, and preparation. Following these 6 steps will help:3

1. Decide if negotiating makes sense: Negotiation is seldom required.  Determine if the energy and expense is worth the potential gain before acting.

For example, you may be able to convince your practice manager to allow you to leave work 15 minutes early today. However, negotiating for this tiny luxury may make it more difficult to ask for more later in the week without appearing needy or demanding. Deciding whether being able to leave 15 minutes early is worth the effort and risk of asking for the privilege is the first step.

2. Understand situations where negotiation works: Mindfully watch for situations where negotiation is not only possible but also valuable, or you will not be successful.  For example, it may be possible to change facts, such as an item’s price, a proposed salary or job description, or a client’s demand.

Related Article: How & When to Negotiate a Better Schedule

3. Ascertain each party’s interests: Only when each partner knows his or her own goals, and understands what the other party is looking for, can partners negotiate a mutually satisfying outcome. It is also important that both parties be aware of emotions such as satisfaction and goodwill, as well as the value of strong relationships, that may set the stage for a positive outcome. The more you know about others’ values, the more effectively you can negotiate.

For example, when clients raise concerns about proposed treatment plans, many practice team members naturally assume they are concerned about the price. Often, this assumption is incorrect. A client asking for alternative treatment plans may be concerned about transporting the pet to and from the clinic, effectively monitoring the pet at home, or administering medications. If you do not explore the client’s interests and concerns, you cannot properly respond.

4. Recognize potential outcomes: You may have a specific outcome in mind, but think about other acceptable solutions that you may achieve by negotiating. Also, consider the options if you do not negotiate. Can you still achieve a satisfactory outcome? Could you accept the proposed salary? Would you be willing to pay the requested price?

Related Article: New Boss? Negotating Mutual Agreements

5. Evaluate all the information relevant to the situation: Knowing any background information about the issue will help you determine your best course. Do you know the reason behind the seller’s asking price?

6. Select a negotiation style: There are 4 common styles.3 Knowing the bargaining style that suits your personality, skills, and the situation at hand will help you achieve the desired outcome.

  • Soft bargaining focuses on developing relationships instead of concentrating on the issues.
  • Hard bargaining concentrates on issues and places minimal value on relationships.
  • Tit-for-tat bargaining focuses on giving in exchange for getting and is centered on fairness.
  • Principled bargaining considers both parties’ interests and looks for a “win-win” scenario that pleases everyone.

Once you have gathered the necessary background information, attempted to understand the needs and concerns of both parties, and selected a negotiation strategy that best fits the situation, you should be prepared for a successful negotiation.

Related Article: How to Negotiate a Successful Maternity Leave

Strong Negotiating Takes Practice

Dr. Jacqueline Layng is a professor of communication at the University of Toledo, with an MA in media communication and a PhD in educational technology from Northern Illinois University. She is a national and international scholar/consultant in technology and business communication.

Why do you think people are generally hesitant to try to negotiate?

“Most people are hesitant to negotiate because they have never been taught the skill and do not even understand that many everyday activities are negotiations, such as who is going to pick up the kids or pick up lunch for the office, or buying and setting up cable service.

“People think most prices are set and do not even ask if a price could be lowered or more services offered. I think they just don't know there are options.

“If they do have some knowledge and truly are hesitant to negotiate, the most likely reason is that people think it is rude, and they don't want to offend others for little or no gain.”

What aspect of negotiation do most people find difficult?

“I would say it is starting to negotiate and then unsuccessfully handling the risk of losing. Most people fold too quickly because they are worried they are going to lose the little gain they may have made. Knowing how to handle the element of risk is key, and the ability to risk losing during the process makes a person a strong negotiator.”

What do you advise those who consider themselves "negotiation novices?"

“Practice! Practice! Practice! Great athletes don't just play the games; they practice long hours so they are more successful at game time. The same is true for strong negotiators. Practice negotiating a better deal every chance you get in different settings, from who cleans the dishes, to which car to buy, to work issues such as scheduling.”


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