Negotiation techniques for office managers

You want to ask for a raise. The project at hand would benefit tremendously from some changes you have in mind, but you need to ask for a deadline extension. Maybe you’d just like the office temperature to go down a couple degrees, but the thermostat is right near that always-freezing colleague of yours. Whatever the reason, keeping a set of general, basic negotiation guidelines close at hand is always a good idea. And here they are.

1. Prepare

If you get caught off guard in a debate, you already lost. Don’t think at a debate as a confrontational situation, where people yell at each other, but rather as a two-sided discussion, bringing together people who have different perspectives. If you really want for the other side to see and understand your view on the matter, then you must go into it prepared to explain it flawlessly. And, as mentioned before, it takes two to spark a conversation, so you have to take into account both parties; you have to make sure you know exactly what you want and what your opponent wants.

The “knowing exactly what you want” part should be easy. There’s nobody more fit to pinpoint and express what your needs and wants are. However, it does help if you jot them down. First, this contouring puts your goals into perspective, showing you your blind spots or anything you might have missed; secondly, it makes it difficult for you to wander away from them.

Knowing what your opponent wants might be a bit trickier, but it’s nothing that can’t be done with proper research and analysis. Identify what his goals are, his strategy, his weak points. Understand where he’s coming from and where he wants to get to. Think about how your wants can be overlapped with his. This way, it will be easier to get what you want.

1b. And listen

Doing your homework regarding your opponent does not mean the information you’ve gathered is set in stone. During the actual negotiation, keep both an open mind and ear. Don’t let your efforts of getting your point across silence everything that’s coming from your opponent. Actively listen to what he has to say and adjust your discourse accordingly. The adaptability that comes with doing your research and actually paying attention to your conversational partner is both a fearless weapon and a smart defense to have during a debate.


2. Have a strategy

Gathering accurate information is simply owning the pen; using that information efficiently is writing your masterpiece. The first thing you have to do when you start the journey towards your objective is to define, in as many details as possible, said objective. In order to reach your destination, you have to know where you’re going. Be concise and honest, whether you’re thinking of a win-win situation or a win-lose one. Secondly, make use of your research from step 1. Triage, organize, formulate all the information you have in such a way that the path you have to walk to get to your goal is crystal clear. Use tables, flowcharts, infographics, if necessary, to draw the route to your target. Following it will help you not get lost along the way.

Another useful thing you could do when setting up your strategy is envision a best case scenario/ worst case scenario course of events. What exactly defines each type of scenario and how would you react at it? If you got five times the raise you had expected – would you jump up triumphantly in the air or would you maintain your composure? If you wouldn’t receive that deadline extension, but, on the contrary, you’d be told the project needs to be finished one month ahead – would you scream and shout or… would you maintain your composure, because screaming doesn’t help anyone?

2b. But also have a BATNA

BATNA is an acronym for Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (as presented in “Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton). In short, BATNA is your backup plan, the alternative to be applied in case everything else fails and no agreement can be reached during negotiations. When drafting your BATNA, aim for mutually beneficial solutions. List your business needs and think about how they can be met by collaborating with your potential partner. Once you’ve done this, it will much easier to see and choose what the is the worst possibility you’d be willing to accept, in order not to lose the partner.


3. Be assertive

You already know what you want and what your negotiation adversary wants. You have your strategy in place, and your BATNA in your side pocket. What’s left to do but express yourself, put into words everything you have gathered? And if you did your job well in the research phase, you now know that you truly are your partner’s best option and vice versa. So just let him know.

Being assertive means being confident and displaying it boldly. Ask and you shall receive. Go big or go home. It does not, however, imply making threats or acting in any way combatively. Don’t exaggerate facts and don’t give ultimatums. The “take-it-or-leave-it” negotiation strategy is a rather faulty one, as it defeats the original purpose – that of debate and bargaining. At the same time, be ready to spot and defuse any of these if you find yourself on the receiving end. Be skeptical about facts that seem misrepresented and don’t be intimidated by final offers or warnings. Stand your ground and back it up with solid information.

3b. While being likeable

You can be both delightful and assertive at the same time. In fact, in many cases, confidence is tightly connected to charisma. One of the things you can do to make the situation less tense is sprinkling the conversation with small talk. Not only will it reduce the people’s anxiety towards the topics to be discussed, but it will also put you into a good light, getting them to like you.

You can also try asking open-ended questions or put something hyped in the spotlight, like a movie or an event. These techniques will aid in building rapport with your opponents, creating a more compassionate atmosphere, where everyone will feel safer to reveal their wants and expectations.

Another idea for turning a negotiation into a pleasant encounter is creating a welcoming environment for the participants. Whether this implies hot beverages or a dozen cupcakes is entirely up to you – while still depending on the nature of the discussion and participants, of course.


4. Communicate

Negotiations are just conversations between two or more partners, that have to end with a solid conclusion. To do that, everyone must contribute. Otherwise, they would turn into monologues, and that will hardly bring about any unanimous conclusion. So make sure to use your time and conversational skills properly. Avoid making assumptions and rather ask about whatever is unclear or missing details. State your opinions and wants, instead of expecting other to read your mind.

One should not forget that we communicate in more ways than verbally. We also communicate with our body language, so pay close attention to this as well. Try to maintain a confident posture, to speak clearly and loudly, and to make eye contact with every participant from time to time. Avoid playing with things around you (such as your pen) or doodling on your notebook – this only transmits that you’re nervous and vulnerable.

4b. And also leverage silence to lead the discussion

“Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.” (Josh Billings) Can’t argue with that. Sometimes the best thing to say to drive the conversation forward during a negotiation is nothing. We’re so scared by silence, that we’ll do anything to fill up the void and make some noise. In negotiation talks, you can take great advantage of this side effect and bring to light your opponent’s inner thoughts. In a nutshell, you can make him spill the beans by asking some questions and then wait it out. Once they started talking, steer them in the direction you want with more in-depth questions. If you pause enough after each one, they’ll feel the need to fill the silence, and they’ll give you more details than you could have hoped for.

You can also use silence to induce self-second-guessing. What that means is that, by taking your time to reply to your adversary’s questions or offers, you plant the seed of doubt in their minds. Did they go too high or too low? Do you know something that they don’t? Are you really so well-versed in your domain that you can immediately spot when something is not right? In any case, they will most likely try to reassess their plan, which could bring you a better proposal.

Last, but not least, silence is a great tool for deactivating the anchoring bias. Briefly put, the anchoring bias is the tendency to assign the greatest importance to the first offer made – or the anchor. The rest of the negotiation only draws from there, which is not completely fair, considering the fact that most often than not, the first figure to be pushed forward is one meant to confuse and unbalance. Better use that silence to process the information and reset your ship on the correct path, than make a biased choice, that will cause damage.


5. Wrap up in an elegant manner

No matter how the conversation went, or what the outcome was, it’s important to conclude your negotiations in an appropriate manner. Being graceful about a loss, or positive about a draw (where no accord has been made), shows that you are willing to leave the door open for further negotiations, or for future business opportunities. Either way, at the end of any negotiation, don’t forget to reiterate the points discussed, the conclusion you have arrived at, and, if necessary, set up a date for a new round of negotiations.

Maria C., Comms. Officer

Written on Tuesday, 22 Jan 2019



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