The “Art” of Negotiation
There are many everyday situations when negotiation is used. This includes:
- Bargaining on the price of a product or service
- Settling differences in a dispute situation
- Arriving at a fair pay-rate for work done or to be done
- Varying contracts, either formally or informally
- Agreeing on a goal or outcomes to aim for
- Arriving at comfortable terms to work together or to cooperate
- To find a compromise of some sort
All of these negotiation situations have one thing in common. They require two or more people to communicate with one another to reach an agreement or deal of some sort – although sometimes this fails, of course, and we have to start the whole process again. But, whether it succeeds or fails negotiation is a “special” kind of communication because it uses a number of tactics and methods for communicating that are not usually part of normal everyday conversation or discussion.
At its most simple level, negotiation is a rather stylized way of communicating using statements, or making claim and counter-claim, until agreement is eventually reached. However, it is also much more than this because broadly speaking, negotiation is an interaction of many influences. Such interactions, for example, include the resolving of particular disagreements, agreeing upon courses of action, bargaining for individual or collective advantage, resolving individual or wide-ranging disputes or crafting outcomes to satisfy various interests. In this sense, negotiation is more of a communicating “dance” in which two parties sway, twirl, lead and follow until the “music” stops playing. This is why it is an “art” and worth exploring from this perspective.
The Negotiating “Dance”
Negotiation involves two basic elements: the process and the substance. The process refers to how the parties negotiate: the context of the negotiations, the parties to the negotiations, the relationships among these parties, the communication between these parties, the tactics used by the parties, and the sequence and stages in which all of these play out. Using the dance analogy, the process is the venue for the dance, who is dancing and what kind of music is being played, for instance.
The substance refers to what the parties negotiate over: the agenda, the issues, the options, the bargaining “room” to maneuver and the kind of agreement that will be reached at the end. Using the dance analogy, the substance is what tune is chosen to start dancing, the pace and style of the steps and even the conversation between the two parties while dancing.
Using these two distinctions the “art” of negotiation is to recognize both process and substance aspects of the interaction and to prepare for both individually. Preparation on the process side involves thinking about why a negotiation is taking place at all, who the interested parties are (and in what particular ways are they interested), and who are the opinion leaders and/or spokespeople for each of these interested parties. It also involves preparing the negotiating “journey” in terms of where meetings most appropriately should take place and over how long will the negotiations run (one meeting or several in stages for example).
Preparation on the substance side involves a clear listing of the issues that need to be negotiated (and an appreciation of all parties’ positions on each item) and the way in which these should best be tackled. This will ideally include a well-thought through list of issues that are likely to arise and challenges that will need to be dealt with along the way, accepting that there will usually need to be bargaining “trades” made in order for an ultimate agreement to be reached.
Although this sounds as if it is rather a predictable and patterned process (just like a formal dance such as a waltz or a quick-step for example) knowing the dance form and steps is important to all parties. It then allows plenty of room for individual expression and a win-win experience for all involved.