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4 Principles of Successful Negotiation

by Madalena Coutinho

If you stop and think about it, we all spend much of our professional and personal lives negotiating and managing conflict.  As organizations become less hierarchical, less based on positional authority, and with many fewer clear boundaries of responsibility, conflict —or at least differences of opinion— will likely become an even greater component of our work lives in the future. Studies have shown that negotiation skills are among the most significant determinants of career success, and while negotiation can be said to be a bit of an art, there are specific techniques that anyone can learn.

Negotiation is the art of working with a person or group with different views in order to produce mutually beneficial agreement. Self-interest is always front and centre, but should not blind either party to the interests of the other. Thus, negotiation is not a zero-sum game, in which people strive to outwit each other in order to get the best deal they can at the expense of their opponent. It is not persuasion, in which the persuader triumphs over the persuaded. Nor is it compromise, which disappoints both sides because each is forced to yield on important issues to arrive at a pseudo agreement.

On the contrary, true negotiation is rooted in four principles:

  • An attitude that prompts the negotiator to work for solutions that will benefit all or most of the participating parties;
  • An orientation that views the other person as a potential partner rather than an adversary;
  • A climate that stimulates both parties to realize that they are more likely to attain their objectives if they work together than if they battle one another;
  • A set of strategies that facilitate the process of securing mutual advantages.

How to apply these principles

Roger Fisher and William Ury, authors of the book “Getting to Yes”, describe 4 essential parameters for what they describe as principled negotiation:

  1. Separate the people from the problem – in other words, be kind to people, tough on issues;
  2. Focus on interests, not positions;
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before making a decision and;
  4. Define objective standards as the criteria for making the decision.

By using these behavioural fundamentals as the basis for any negotiation, the probability of conflict-free outcomes significantly increases – stress is reduced, respect and trust are modelled and moreover, interests are met.

Sounds like a recipe for success!

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