The Business of Good Negotiation Skills: It's Relationships (Not Money) That's at Stake

by Jill Foster on May 21, 2009


Guest post by Katie Kemple, producer of the Women Grow Business leadership series. With an extensive background in radio, television, and communications, she holds an Executive Master’s in Leadership from Georgetown University. Katie believes in the power of positive thinking (plus embracing failure as a path to success). She’s writing a memoir about being unemployed and a book on finding joy in leadership (with her blog at Love Your Layoff, where she can be reached).

When I was a kid, I used to get in trouble. A lot.
And when I did, I would hope and pray that my father made it home before my mother did. My mom worked in my school district, so it was harder for her to remain objective. Having your kid make a scene and hearing about it from others teachers is, understandably, embarrassing. Regardless, I preferred my dad in such situations for three reasons, he:

  • 1) remained calm
  • 2) listened to my side of the story
  • 3) made it clear that while he didn’t agree with my actions, he still loved me

I didn’t realize it then, but my dad was good at this for a reason. He was the chief negotiator for his union.

Say the word “negotiation” and the first thing that comes to mind is money. Negotiating a contract, a salary, a bill. But, the truth is, life is a negotiation and a majority of it has nothing to do with money.

Negotiating is what happens when people have conflicting needs. If you thought about it, you could probably name several examples from the last few hours. For instance, my toughest negotiation today was with my toddler. She wanted to go for a walk outside, but it was rainy, so I negotiated a deal to Skype with Grandma and Grandpa instead.

Lose ground (or gain it)
In business, it’s precisely these routine negotiations where you can lose ground. In the heat of the moment [image by HannaT, Creative Commons] -people get carried away and forget what’s at stake: not the money, contract, or time, but the relationships. Because, lets face it, not every deal is going to work out. Sometimes the products, events or strategies are not the right fit. But that does not mean the person you’re negotiating with will never be the right fit for some program further down the line.

If you’re a great negotiator, like my dad, you always leave the table showing great care and respect for your opponent.

To him, it didn’t matter whether you were negotiating a five year contract, a curfew, or the last bagel, win or lose, you always knew he cared but it wasn’t personal. And that’s why I wanted to keep doing business with my dad and why many others felt the same way.

Boiling it down to the final score: remain calm & establish trust. Many years later I can’t count the number of classes I’ve taken on negotiating. I could talk your ear off discussing BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), anchoring and cultural negotiation tactics. I was treated to a barrage of negotiating simulations to practice such techniques while working on my masters. But it all boiled down to this: if my opponent and I were able to establish trust at the beginning, remain calm, listen, and express care — we both achieved higher points on our final score. Plus, we finished earlier than the other teams and walked out smiling.

When prone to heated debate: tactics
What has impressed me about this approach is that it even works on people normally prone to heated debate. If you don’t take the bait, they can’t reel you in. And taking the bait here is: getting emotional, refusing to listen, and freezing people out if you don’t get your way.

As an entrepreneur you’re constantly faced with negotiations, particularly if you have a small or non-existent staff.

[As a business owner] You must use influence to persuade people who don’t directly report to you. That often makes it trickier.

How to lose clients: dictate your way through negotiation
I’ve seen trail blazers waltz into a situation thinking they can dictate the outcome of a relationship to a vendor. It never works. And if it does, eventually the other party becomes so exhausted that they opt to drop you as a client all together.

That’s why establishing trust, care, and good listening skills are so essential. Your business depends on it.

Here are several examples of how others have used trust, listening and care to achieve winning results in negotiations.

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