DNA strand

The art of negotiation

Becoming an ace at negotiating 

5 minute read
DNA strand

Whether you need to wrangle a starting salary, ask for a pay rise or determine what to do for the office Christmas party, workplace negotiation is an art form in itself.

For many professionals, it can be difficult to drive focused negotiations within the workplace.

In fact, numerous employees don’t like to negotiate at all, with a  CareerBuilder survey finding that 51 per cent of workers feel uncomfortable initiating negotiations surrounding their salary.

As nail-biting as negotiations might be, there are things you can do to prepare.

Negotiation is like DNA

For those looking to improve their negotiation skills, The University of Western Australia Negotiation and Workplace Relations Professor Ray Fells said it was important to see each negotiation as having four key elements.

“One way I’ve presented negotiation is thinking of it like DNA helix with two strands and little links in between holding the two strands together,” he said.

“If the strands between the two sides aren’t working then the negotiation won’t work.”

According to Professor Fells, the four key factors that make a negotiation successful are information exchange, reciprocity, trust and understanding power, with each working to hold the two DNA strands – the two negotiating parties – together.

“Information exchange is the first factor – the first task in any negotiation is to get on top of things and understand what’s been going on, and so appreciate the context of the negotiation, what people want and why they want it,” he said.

“The second element is reciprocity – the fact that we tend to match other people’s behaviour. For example, if we want them to share information with us, we have to share a bit with them first.

“The third link in the negotiation process is trust – if I share some information with you, can I trust you to give some back to me or, if I make a concession with you, will you make one back and meet me somewhere in the middle?”

Professor Fells said the fourth and final link was to understand power and to establish who needed it the most in a negotiation.

“Most people think they’re in the strongest position – that’s one of the biases we have, we think we’re in a stronger position than we really are,” he said.

“So then we are often more forceful and competitive than we should be; we forget that there’s two strands to negotiation’s DNA – you might feel you have a strong bargaining position but what about the other party – how strong is their position?”

Negotiating effectively in a team

Workplace negotiations can be fraught with difficulties, yet vital for great success.

AIM WA Negotiation Skills Course Facilitator Dr Jude Balm FAIM said effective negotiation was about aligning your own values with the person or organisation you were negotiating with.

“If people disconnect from their values it’s quite likely they’ll become disinterested in the negotiation,” he said.

“A part of the negotiation agreement is to negotiate or agree to contribute to the organisation’s objectives, at an individual and team level.

“At the team level it’s about working toward a common goal – you might have differences of opinion and skillsets within the team, but you have to work as a collective group.”

For Professor Fells, negotiating effectively in a team connects back to the DNA strands and the importance of information exchange.

“What you need to do when you’re preparing for the negotiation is to imagine yourself as the person you’re negotiating with and think about what’s important to them,” he said.

“Think about what you want to achieve and how that fits among the things they want to achieve.

“Go in and essentially say, ‘I understand what’s important to you and if you give me what I want, that’s going to help you achieve what you want’.”

The subjectivity of fairness

What might seem fair to a manager might seem inequitable to the rest of the team, which is why both Dr Balm and Professor Fells claim that fairness is subjective.

“The trouble is we don’t actually know what’s fair, we just know what’s unfair, so fair is negotiable,” Professor Fells said.

“If we know something is unfair we just need to come out and say this doesn’t look right to me and ask for more information as to why the situation has come about."

“In any negotiation, be clear about what you are going to do if you don’t get an outcome that you want."

“You might feel that it is unfair you are being given more work without a pay rise but, before making a pay demand, think about how prepared you are to quit the job if you don’t get it and what effect it might have on the organisation.”

According to Dr Balm, fairness leads back to the alignment of our own goals and values.

“While fairness is a subjective word, it’s also about that discretionary effort and the need to invest in the organisation,” he said.

“If you want a pay rise, you need to negotiate what you’re bringing to the organisation – it’s about giving the employer enough reason to say yes to a promotion or salary.”

“It is not enough to tell your boss you deserve a raise – you need to provide evidence as to why you’ve earned one,” Dr Balm said.

“Everyone wants a raise but not everyone can get it or even deserves it,” he said.

“It’s about demonstrating that we are worth the promotion, extra money or special recognition and providing the evidence to support that claim through extra work, discretionary effort or values.”

Have a backup plan

Although you might have what you think is an irresistible proposal, more often than not your initial negotiation pitch may be knocked back, which is why Dr Balm suggests devising a plan B.

“We have to look at the risks and what could happen if the negotiation fails,” he said.

“In my workshops we talk about communication styles, how to close an agreement, putting together an action plan and getting that acceptance of the action plan.

“We also talk about the walk away point – where people can walk away from the negotiation knowing they have a plan B."

Professor Fells said it’s important to consider an alternative if your proposal does not go to plan and to remember that negotiation is a two-way street.

“If you don’t reach an agreement, how are you going to achieve what you want to achieve?” he said.

“If you’re buying something from a particular supplier and you don’t get the price you want, where is the next supplier?

“It’s all about knowing your fall-back or walk away position, if you’ve got a good walk away position, you’ve got power in a negotiation.”