+Scott Watson

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Top Ten Tips for Honest Influencing and Negotiating

When I ask groups, 'How often do you negotiate?', they generally respond with answers like 'occasionally' or 'not very often'. But the accurate answer is we are always negotiating. We can't not negotiate. Whether it is asking for additional resources, revised deadlines or even whose turn it is to make the team coffees - life is one big negotiation.

But if we are to become effective negotiators, it really helps if we are already good at influencing other people. I'm sure you know of someone who is a 'good' influencer but leaves a trail of destruction and broken relationships in their wake. That isn't what this post or my approach is about. My approach is strictly honest and absolutely win-win or no deal.

So, here are some tips for you to consider and apply in your workplace. Remember that it wouldn't be a great strategy to simply take the words I write and use them as such. These are just my words and my preferred approaches. I invite you to think of some of your own. And remember, high trust relationships have a massive influence on whether another human being is both open and willing to be influenced by you.

1. If/Then can be effectively used to agree a reciprocal trade-off. In plain English this means that when someone is seeking to impose (not agree-impose) an instruction or deadline on you, your immediate attention should be to obtain something back in return, and quickly. For example 'I understand that you want this report completing by Monday 12pm and you realise how packed my schedule is with other high priority commitments. So, IF I were to agree to complete the report and achieve this very challenging deadline THEN would you be prepared to (x,y or z) for me in return?'

2. Help your boss realise the implications of their/your action or inaction. For example, your boss demands that yet another report or project needs to be got underway, and it's you who will be doing it. It is dangerous and perhaps a little foolish for someone to take on yet another commitment they really deep down know just can't be hit without sacrificing quality or other project outputs. For example to your manager, 'I am committed to doing my best to achieve all of the outputs you have set me and require of me. As you are aware, there are many tight timescales on many projects to achieve. Just so I can understand which takes top priority, please will you share with me which of the other projects you wish to set aside until this new project is completed?' Bear in mind that bosses are perhaps not open to setting something aside - they just want it doing! This is rarely because they are not very nice people, they just have pressures at a higher level to deal with, so this is where your integrity and assertiveness need to shine through. 'If I do spend the time required on completing this new project, THE IMPLICATIONS for (a) project is....THE KNOCK ON EFFECT for (b) project will be ......and THE IMPLICATIONS FOR (c) project will likely be......

3. Help them understand what it means - All too often the willingness to comply with a request or demand kicks in. In some situations it is a very good thing to comply, while in others, all it does is cause stress, anxiety and frustration. And we can't perform anywhere near our best when we are experiencing these kinds of emotions. Help the other party/parties truly understand the impact and potential consequences of their decision/s, actions/inactions so that the dialogue can progress positively. When people genuinely understand, they are far more likely to be open to your honest and professional dialogue. Think of the medical doctor example to his heavy smoking patient. 'You need to stop smoking' versus 'You need to stop smoking because if you choose to continue this means you will not be around to walk your beautiful daughter down the aisle when she marries.' Notice the very different understanding.

4. Use softeners to help higher value dialogue - In a spirited discussion, or even a stand-off, the question 'AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?' has a very different impact to 'Please will you help me understand exactly what is meant by that?' The very tone associated with the first question can put your colleague/client on the back foot in a heartbeat. It can also make influencing and negotiating so much harder as they can feel bullied or stone-walled. Good softeners include 'Just so I can be clear....May I just ask you a question about...If you could help me understand (a,b or c) in more detail, I would be grateful/I'd really appreciate it...Bearing in mind/remembering our agreement about (a), what are your thoughts on how it can be achieved?...Do we all agree that.....? Softeners are like a medical doctor having a wonderful bedside manner. Consider your bedside manner carefully - or there could be severe implications!

5. Keep your commitments - If you say you will do something, just do it. If you say you won't do something, don't do it. Simple as a standard and it has the added benefit of building trust. People trust people who make good things happen. And as well as keeping commitments to other people, remember that self-trust is where it all starts from. Trust your self to speak up when you need to. Trust your self to allow other people the space to think and the right to have their own ideas and opinions.

6. The power of WE - Often, but not always, two or more heads are better than one. If you have a colleague who is refusing to change their idea, first of all work on understanding how and why they have reached their decision. Then you can smoothly move on to understanding why they are not open to changing their decision. Often it is either because they don't particularly care for the person/people inviting them to change their mind (as it can be perceived as one-up manship), they have a very personal, personal value on a subject that has driven their decision, they may not have access to the data that you have access to - and that's why sharing is a good thing, or it may be that they have advised their boss of their decision and the boss agreed with them, or their boss has told them what decision to make. Now, remember that people generally comply with an authority figure, whether or not they agree with them. If you have a colleague or two who have challenged your thinking and they genuinely agree with your research and facts, you can return to your manager and state something like 'Name, name and name have reviewed my data independently and they all believe that the decision/recommendation is the most appropriate for this matter. Remember to stay away from 'They all agreed with me so I'm right and you're clearly wrong'. This isn't helpful to anyone. Honestly applying the power of WE may help your colleague to be a little more open to a different way of thinking or at the very least, positioned with integrity, your polite persistance may reflect that you are a committed and helpful worker.

I can't believe we're only on number 7. I've been writing for ages!

7. Separate Facts from Opinions - Dialogue can become fraught with anger, frustration and disappointment when we have what seems to be a great idea only for it to be rejected by a boss or a peer group. Be aware that opinions are just that. They are simply beliefs that an individual or a group believe about something. A fact though has indisputable evidence to support it. Always, always, always ask a question to clarify whether a statement is a fact or opinion.

8. Use effective tag questions - A tag question is a bundle of words at the end of a sentence that is leading the other party to respond. Tag questions can be highly effective when used sparingly in a negotiation or meeting. Examples of tag questions are...Do we both agree? I have understood correctly, haven't I? We agree, do we not? I'm correct in remember we did agree the deadline, aren't I? That is your understanding too, is it not? This is my understanding of the problem, is this correct? Don't use too many in quick succession as the other party may feel like they are being interrogated. Remember that tag questions along with every other technique I share with you must be applied with a genuine win-win outcome in mind.

9. Say NO and stick to it - This may at first sound like a tough position to stick with, especially when you are negotiating or having a dialogue with your boss or a high income value client. But, my position here is to stick to your NO position UNTIL both parties agree to collaborate openly and honestly to explore and hopefully reach an agreement that works for both parties, plus, as a bonus, for any third party too. Saying NO is not digging your heels in, being obstructive or childish. It is a starting point on which to start negotiating. After all, would you like me to make a commitment to you and then not keep my commitment? What about if I knew all along I either couldn't or wouldn't keep it and I never told you? With this approach you can move forward to 'Because of the negative implications (for both you and I) we spoke about earlier, I do need to say NO to your request as a whole. BUT, perhaps what we can agree to work on is a,b and c as they are most important to you and your stakeholder. Perhaps we can get these pieces completed fully and to the required standard before starting on d,e,f,....z. Do we agree this is a good step forward?'

10. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify - When our schedule is packed full with meetings and telephone calls it is easy to forget things. Our brain is the most powerful computer known to mankind - but sometimes the programming gets a little messed up. Our memory is not the most accurate tool to rely on to remember important facts, figures and commitments. Always clarify your understanding, always clarify your perceived agreements on the spot when any misunderstandings can be resolved, not later when your head is elsewhere. When you have clarified all that is required, only then should you move forward. Only when you have complete agreement on understanding should you then move on to the next steps.

11. More tips will follow next week. In the meantime, please honestly and ethically apply these tips and let me know how you get along.

Best wishes


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