The arms and hands of a man in a white shirt, typing on a laptop.

How to make negotiation a win-win game

Many column inches have been written about the ‘art’ or ‘science’ of negotiation, when in reality the truth is pretty straightforward – it’s simply a dialogue between people to reach an agreement. So where are the challenges? Usually in ourselves. We often frame our negotiating positions using intuitive judgements, rather than an informed sense of self or others.

According to the Harvard Negotiation Project, negotiators come in plenty of shapes and sizes. They have a personal style and a practical approach (competing or compromising) that create many potential scenarios, but not all are suitable to every negotiation.

Soft bargainers want to maintain good relations at all costs. They bargain gently, actively avoid conflict (which is actually often necessary to a successful negotiation) and tend to not be able to separate the people from the issue under discussion.

Hard bargainers ladle on the pressure, have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach and see their goal as the achievement of an uncompromised victory.

Principled bargainers are problem-focused and seek solutions that are based on objective criteria, rather than the motives or intentions of the people involved. As you might imagine, they draw on principles and professional standards in reaching agreement.

The rules of engagement

Jo Lloyd, Canon Ascent Mentor and Managing Director of Cotmandene Training and Development has plenty of experience in coaching sales teams and leaders. She believes that somewhere in the middle of these approaches is ideal – maintain focus, yes, but be a firm and principled compromiser, rather than a hard competitor. Particularly as you are likely to be negotiating with someone who is your equal or opposite. “Be quite clear in your own mind what you want from the deal,” she says. “But make sure you are also quite clear on the parameters of your offering.”

A woman holding a tablet gives a presentation in front of a projector screen for five colleagues, who are sat at a boardroom table with laptops, glasses of water and a plate of croissants.
Negotiation is a discourse, not a competition. Some of the most valuable negotiations show us where we cannot add value, not just where we can.

Do your homework

Before you set foot through the door, you need to do your research, try to have a complete understanding of the scope and any external factors. Harvard Professor Deepak Malhotra, author of ‘Negotiating the Impossible’ also believes that there is strength to be found in considering all the potential barriers to negotiation – psychological (is there a grievance between parties? Or a lack of trust?), structural (Is there too little time to achieve this? Is the budget too low? Am I speaking to the right people?) and tactical (is the focus too narrow? Is information being deliberately held back?). “If you enter a negotiation without properly preparing, you’re on the back-foot right from the off,” stresses Jo.

Listen and learn

As the saying goes ‘whoever talks the most during a negotiation loses.’ You might be eager to get to the numbers, but pushing the issue is counterproductive when not everyone around the table has had the chance to put their views across. Listening can also open up answers to some of your ‘barrier’ questions. “it gives you a chance to ask what they are thinking and gain an understanding of their position,” says Jo. “Often if you sit quietly and let people chat for long enough, they’ll reveal their hand anyway!”

Compromise and Commit

“You should expect to have to make some concessions, so plan in advance what they might be,” advises Jo. But don’t get in the habit of giving away too much, too often and allowing your compromises to be unreciprocated. An imbalance of give and take when you negotiate can look desperate and sets a difficult precedent. You want to be in a position to offer flexibility, but have it rewarded. Offering compromises with conditions also helps to build trust. “The glue that keeps a deal from unravelling is an unshakeable commitment to deliver on what you say you will,” adds Jo. “You should offer this comfort level to your customer and then carry it through.” However, she cautions to avoid deals and customers where past experience shows you that the other side does not demonstrate similar levels of commitment.

Be a firm and principled compromiser, rather than a hard competitor

Close with actions

Even if you don’t reach an agreement, at the close of a meeting you should be able to walk away understanding what has happened and what’s next. If you’re unable to recap what was covered and what was agreed, then it has been unproductive, time wasted and potentially damaging to the process. Wrap up with clarity and follow up with documentation. Don’t leave any loose ends behind. This is also a great opportunity to re-present the facts and assign ownership to solutions, as Jo explains: “In most negotiations, you will hear all the other side’s problems and reasons they can't give you what you want. They’ll want their problems to become yours, but don't let them. Instead, deal with each issue as it comes up and try to come up with a workable solution. If their budget is too low, for example, perhaps they can redefine the scope of their campaign or redistribute money from other ongoing projects.”

Don’t sweat the outcome

Not all negotiations end the way you want them to. In fact, Prof. Malhotra believes that this is actually the point, and a valuable negotiation process can in fact highlight where working together would not add value for either party. Jo agrees: “We have to keep moving forwards when doing business, recognising that it isn’t always possible to win every deal, and learning to go after the ones we can win.”

You can learn more from Jo Lloyd and other expert mentors at Canon Ascent, a programme designed to support business development in the print industry through insights, workshops and mentoring, delivered by industry experts and Canon specialists.

Written by Aimee Roberts

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