As an IT professional, you negotiate every day. If you’re launching a new app, for instance, how many times do you negotiate with people?
You’ll negotiate with the business client to arrange for staff to test the app, with the server team to get space for tests, and with the app team to get it loaded on time.
Let’s face it, your success as an IT pro depends on your ability to negotiate and secure necessary resources from clients and other staff members.
We don’t often think of negotiating as something we do. If you ever feel understaffed, that you lack resources or are facing unrealistic deadlines, it may be time to improve your negotiation skills.
The two biggest ways to develop your negotiation skills are to take an ‘objective-based’ and ‘everyone wins’ approach.
Position versus objective-based negotiation
When you think of negotiation, what comes to mind? Do you think of conflict, or two parties firmly planting their stakes into the ground and not being willing to look at things from the other person’s point of view?
Although it seems customary that negotiating is based on trying to resolve differences by holding onto positions, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The alternative and more effective method is objective-based negotiation.
Picture this scenario. You and your partner are planning a holiday. You have decided that you want to go to a particular resort because it has one of the best day spas and your partner has decided they want to go to another resort because it has a golf course.
You come to the negotiation with the position of going to your resort of choice and your partner wanting to go to his or her resort.
You can probably guess the way that conversation is going to go! That would be position-based negotiation.
So what’s objective-based negotiation? Imagine the conversation starts like this. “Let’s look at what we want in our holiday.”
In the above example, one partner likes the spa and the other partner wants to play golf. Those were objectives and not positions.
With those two objectives, we would have numerous potential solutions that meet the needs of both parties. These include going to a resort that has a golf course and a spa; spending equal time at both resorts during the holiday; or taking separate holidays.
These would be the options if the only objectives were golf and spa.
Let’s say we add objectives of spending quality time together and having it be the most economical – then we’re down to the first option, a resort that has both.
Starting with the objective first allows us to negotiate solutions and outcomes that are not even seen when we are locked into our “positions.”
Take a look for yourself. Where are you holding onto these positions and not looking to define the mutual objectives, ask yourself, ‘do I do this during professional negotiations and personal negotiations?’
Take an ‘everyone wins’ approach
When we think of successful negotiation the term we most often hear is that it must be ‘win-win’.Read more: Six ways to blow a negotiation
I was fortunate when growing up to have been mentored by Gerard I. Nierenberg who founded the Negotiation Institute in the 1960s and is considered to be the father of contemporary negotiation practice. He’s written books such as The Art of Negotiating.
If there was one principle in negotiation that Jerry drilled into my head more than any other, it was that win-win was not enough.
He coined the term ‘everybody wins’ as the most effective approach to take to negotiations. The difference in ‘win-win’ is that the solution being sought is for both parties to reach an agreement that it is a win for both of them.
Everyone wins takes into account all the parties impacted by the negotiation. The story I think of most often was regarding one of the major automobile manufacturers negotiating a salary increase with the labour union.
The union wanted a higher salary and the motor company didn’t want a reduction in profit, so they decided a win-win would be to raise the price of the car. This way they could pay the higher wage and the employee and manufacturer would both win.
It didn’t work because they didn’t keep in mind that their outcome affected other people and those other people decided not to buy the cars at the new higher price.
An ‘everyone wins’ approach would have considered the impact on all parties and realised that an alternative solution would have been necessary.
Preparation is key
You need to prepare well if these approaches are to work. Too often when we think of negotiation, we just think of the bargaining that takes place across the table.
As Sun Tzu said in his book, The Art of War, every battle is won before it begins. If you know your opposition and you know yourself, you will be successful 100 per cent of the time.
If you know yourself and not your opposition, you will be successful 50 per cent of the time; and if you know neither, you won’t be successful at all.
Quoting The Art of War may seem like a conflict-based approach to negotiation, but we must remember that Sun Tzu also stated, “the ultimate form of victory is to have won without the need for battle.”
That is a result of taking an objective and everyone wins approach. To do this successfully there are many items you should research, understand and be clear about prior to sitting at the negotiation table.
These include your objectives and those of other parties, the concerns of each negotiator, whether there's any history between the parties, and if any party is bringing any preconceived notions to the negotiation.
You also need to consider the bottom line point that you will not go past, and your alternative course of action if a successful outcome is not reached.
Remember after the negotiation ends, you will still have a relationship with the other party. It’s a fine balance between getting what everyone needs and maintaining a healthy business relationship.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Lou is currently the professional development specialist for DDLS.