How to negotiate smartly

Last Updated : 09 March 2021, 06:28 IST
Last Updated : 09 March 2021, 06:28 IST

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Whether it’s asking your boss for a raise, a colleague on whether he can fill in for you this week or someone who reports to you to take on more responsibilities, many interactions at work involve skills of negotiation. As psychologists have been studying this phenomenon for decades, are there tips and strategies that you could use the next time you have to strike a deal with someone?

In a blog post published by the British Psychological Society, writer Emma Young outlines key findings that may smoothen the negotiation process. First, negotiations that involve a power differential can be tricky to navigate, especially if you are in the lower-status position. Research indicates that those at the bottom tend to come off worse than those at the top.

In order to subvert this usual trend, you may fortify your position by engaging in a self-affirmation exercise before the negotiation process.

So, before approaching your boss for a sabbatical, if you write a few lines describing your pivotal negotiating strength, you are likely to be in a better bargaining position than if you had just walked in cold.

Second, don’t assume that every negotiation has to have a winner and a loser. Many negotiations can result in win-win situations wherein both parties feel their needs have been accommodated. Apparently, those who are in financially weaker situations tend to cling to a win-lose mindset, which then clouds their ability to take advantages of opportunities that result in both sides being better off.

Remember that an adversarial outlook can be especially hurtful when you are in a financially vulnerable position.

When you have a fairly high-stakes meeting with clients for example, you might think that the quiet of the office conference room may be more conducive to hammer out a good deal. However, research suggests that people may be more cooperative around a meal, better still if you can share a plate of fries with your clients.

Likewise, if you are a boss and would like a subordinate to take on additional responsibilities, though the company cannot compensate the person with a raise just yet, taking your junior out to lunch may soften the blow while you make your pitch.

Managing emotions

As any experienced negotiator can testify, the process of negotiating, especially when the stakes are high, is often fraught with emotion, with anxiety and anger usually topping the list. Is it better to quell or display these feelings? In a riveting paper in Harvard Business Review, Alison Wood Brooks, a Professor at Harvard Business School provides tips on how to manage the smorgasbord of feelings that arise during crucial negotiations.

In one experiment involving 136 participants, half of them were made to feel anxious by first exposing them to threatening music for three-minutes from the movie Psycho, while the other half listened to a soothing Handel piece. Previous research demonstrates that inducing emotions in this way can be quite effective as the Psycho piece is actually quite unnerving for most people.

During the negotiation, which involved a cell phone contract, those who were in the anxious group tended to make meeker initial offers, were faster to respond to the other party’s moves and were more likely to leave the negotiations early compared to the calmer group. The anxious group then ended up with less lucrative deals. According to Brooks, experienced negotiators may purposely try to induce anxiety in their negotiators to gain the upper hand.

Anxiety, anger

So, how can you curb your anxiety when you are entering an important negotiation? Brooks exhorts you to rehearse and practice, and sharpen your negotiation skills. If you have the option, you may also ask a third-party to negotiate on your behalf. In fact, many people already rely on professional negotiators like real-estate agents and publishing and movie agents for signing consequential deals.

While exhibiting anxiety during a negotiation is definitely detrimental, what about anger? Though it’s also a negative emotion, can it aid and abet the process because it makes you appear resolute? According to Brooks, the expression of anger can help a person get what they desire, but only if it is a one-time negotiation, possibly with a stranger, someone whom you are unlikely to encounter again.

But if you are negotiating with someone with the possibility of a longer-term relationship, then anger can be destructive as it diminishes trust and makes you less likeable.

Beware that anger can amplify a conflict and is more likely to result in a stalemate. It also corrodes the negotiation process, making it a competitive as opposed to a collaborative one.

To reduce the chances of anger hijacking a meeting, try to establish rapport with the other person, both prior and after the negotiation. Further, if you approach the process as a collaborator, where both parties stand to gain, hostility is less likely to mar the interaction. During negotiations, if things start to heat up, resist the urge to hammer through. Instead, request a break so everyone can cool off.

By being calm and collected, both you and the other party stand to gain.

Published 09 March 2021, 05:48 IST

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