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How to improve your negotiation skills

As the UK starts negotiating an EU trade deal, new research by Barclaycard Payments reveals that almost half (46%) of senior procurement managers admit to a lack of confidence when it comes to negotiating face-to-face (53% among women and 43% among men).

For them, Paul Fisher, Programme Director of the Oxford Programme on Negotiation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, offers the following negotiating tips.

1 Find out as much as you can about your negotiation counterpart. Negotiation is not a competitive sport and the more you can understand the other side’s pressures and influences the more likely you are to create value at the negotiation table.
2 Prepare. Many negotiations fail before they get to the table. Find out about your counterpart, research industry benchmarks, leverage data analytics, secure your internal mandate, agree on goals and put in place an effective negotiation strategy.
3 Negotiate the process. Where should we meet? What is on the agenda? What are the logistics and timelines? Negotiate an effective process and you are more likely to get a durable agreement.
4 Separate the people from the issues. There are two core elements to any negotiation – people and issues. Don’t let one destroy the other. Don’t let personal opinions towards a negotiation counterpart impact the negotiation or the difficulties of the issues impact personal relationships.
5 Think interests, not positions. Setting out rigid positions at the outset of a negotiation makes it difficult to be flexible. Instead, think of the interests that underly these positions. Ask the question ‘why?’.
6 Remember that people can see the same issue differently. Each side often has multiple and varying interests, some of which are of high value to attain and others which are of low cost to give away. It’s through each party trading on these differences that real value can be generated.
7 Make sure you have an alternative away from the table. The better your alternative to a negotiated agreement and your willingness to walk away, the stronger your negotiation position at the table.
8 Don’t be afraid to make the first offer. People adjust, rather than create, when making decisions. Making a first offer can have a strong impact on the negotiation – a tactic known as ‘anchoring’.
9 Make sure you adapt to different communications channels. There’s no substitute for looking your negotiation counterpart in the eye and building relationships face to face. With time and cost pressures, however, more negotiations are taking place via email, video conferencing and WhatsApp. Make sure you are flexible in your approach to adapt to different scenarios. With email negotiations, for example, leverage the benefits of clear records of offers, counter-offers and the ability to leverage data to back up proposals.
10 Don’t forget the people away from the table. They can have a major impact on both obtaining a deal and the durability of the agreement. A stakeholder management strategy and the identification of potential supporters and obstacles to the negotiation can be crucial.
11 Negotiation isn’t a natural gift. It can be taught and learned. Natural born negotiators are few and far between. The best are self-made and improve with conscious effort, training and practice.