Two Key Understandings in Negotiation

As business people we don't have a choice as to whether or not we negotiate – our only choice is whether we do it well – or poorly.

I teach clients and audiences two key understandings: 1) Negotiation is the key business skill, and 2) Your most important negotiation with anyone is the first one.

Let’s begin with the concept that negotiation is the key business skill. Negotiation determines: where you work (and for how much), the size of your staff, the relationship with that staff, your relationship with your manager, the size of your workload, whether or not your new pet project is approved, the budget for that project, perks, travel, and the size of your office.

That’s just at work. Negotiation determines: where you live, what you drive, when your kids go to bed, if your kids go to bed, if you marry, if your marriage stays together, and if it doesn’t, if you survive. It determines if you go to the movies, and which one, if you watch TV, and where you go to dinner. Negotiation is so pervasive and has penetrated life to such an extent that most of us don’t even see it. We experience it as a fish experiences water.

Let’s look at understanding #2. Your most important negotiation with any person is the first one. That’s because after the first negotiation, many of the others are predetermined. They’re built into the fabric of the relationship. The beginning negotiations set up what I call “the dance”. The dance determines the steps, the relationship that exists between two parties. Let me show you what I mean.

Every parent is in a dance with their child. For some, the nature of that dance is that the parent has total authority and the roll of the child is to obey. For others, the dance allows much more freedom for the child, and less authority for the parent. For a few, the dance is that the child is somewhat in charge, and the parent’s job is to make the child happy, or acquiesce to their wishes.

We smile at this parallel, but I’ll suggest to you that the relationships we have at work are not different. You and your manager, and you and your staff are in a dance. The steps to that dance were determined early on in the relationship, by negotiation. Those negotiations were extremely critical because they determined “the dance” between parties.

Axiom: Once agreements are set, they are very hard to change because of expectations.

Imagine that you have taken a new job. You have closed the salary. You have a title and job description and your face on the web site. Within one week of taking the job, you realize that you would like to renegotiate. Because there is so much work to be done, you feel that you deserve a larger salary. You go to management and tell them of your idea. What response do you feel that you will get? If they’re pleased and agree with your work ethic, you may have a chance. If they feel that you have yet to prove yourself, you may find an icy chill in the hall way. Either way, the timing makes the negotiation very difficult.

It takes a good negotiator to change the dance once the song has begun. A final observation: If you’re dancing to someone else’s music, life can be tough.

In upcoming articles, we’ll focus on techniques and tactics to enable you to get what you want, when you want it.

Click here to download a printable PDF version of this post.