When it comes to negotiation, many people either love it or dread it.
This makes for a fraught negotiation landscape, populated by competitors and accommodators. The competitor thinks, “Bring it on!” while the accommodator thinks, “Get me out of here!”
So what is going on?
The casual observer may think that individuals who love conflict usually negotiate well. Yet competitors often suffer from what some scholars call “competitive arousal,” or the irrational need to win at all costs. The drive to win and the love of conflict is so strong that they risk alienating their negotiating partner, team, and colleagues.
Conversely, accommodators fear and loathe conflict. They automatically equate negotiation with conflict. They often acquiesce to the negotiator’s demands or find a way to avoid the negotiation entirely.
Winners or losers?
These two camps often misperceive their negotiation performance. The competitors assume a victory, while the accommodators assume a loss. Either end of the negotiation spectrum rarely achieve the optimal result, which is not just a good agreement—it is the best one.
Every negotiator should strive to achieve this optimal result at the negotiating table. Yet more often than not, negotiators fail—and they frequently don’t realize it until long after the negotiating process ends.
Finding a Balance
The answer to becoming a better negotiator, of course, lies in the space between the two extremes. Easy to say, hard to do? Here are some tips:
1. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Self-awareness for good negotiators means identifying and using your strengths while pinpointing and minimizing your weaknesses.
Take the time to map out a strengths/weaknesses/actions matrix. For example, a common weakness is not knowing where to start a negotiation. What is your salary target point? What is the lowest you’re willing to accept? In the matrix under actions, you could list, “Learn to develop target points and explicit goals.”
2. Plan and Prepare
The biggest mistake most negotiators make is that they fail to plan effectively. Many negotiators, in particular the competitors, believe that they have an innate ability to negotiate, which doesn’t require them to prepare.
Planning and preparation are the key to success, but they require time and attention. Proper planning can turn an accommodator into a winner and a competitor into a collaborative, results-oriented negotiator. Essential to planning is identifying your goals, understanding your priorities within those goals, and predicting what the other party’s goals and responses might be.
3. Understand Your Emotions
If you are likely to become emotional during a negotiation, knowing this aspect of your personality can help you perform better. Then you can be ready for strong negative emotions to surface, says Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro in their book Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as you Negotiate.
When we fight our emotions and try to control them, we unleash the emotional beast all at once—and at the wrong time. People will cry, yell, or simply leave the negotiating table in a huff and then beat themselves up for doing so later.
When asked about their weaknesses, people often cite their inability to control their emotions. So what’s the trick? Preparation and planning and …
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice, practice, practice—in the privacy of your own home, even. Sometimes just stating and restating your goals out loud allows you not only to listen to how they sound but also how you sound. Modulate your tone and cadence so that you are clear and concise.
You can role play with a willing partner and practice your approach with them. You can also take a course or professional development seminar that will allow you to practice with other participants, receive feedback, and learn new skills.
All of these tips work whether you are an accommodator or a competitor. They will help you become more flexible and approach negotiations more strategically … and lead you to the optimal result.