“Anything that takes us out of our comfort zone for a while can act as a reminder that the past we are used to may not be our best future.” ~ Charles Handy

This weekend I conducted a very unscientific survey and asked a handful of people in person and a few hundred virtually, “How would you describe your negotiating style?”

Rather unsurprisingly, the answers were as many and as varied as the people I asked.

Here’s a sample of what I heard or read:

  • “I am open.” When I asked what was meant by that, they said, “Really, I am passive, aggressive.”
  • “I am crude.” When I asked for an explanation, the person said, “I have no social skills. I speak first, then consider my word choice later.”
  • “It needs help…it’s either my way or no way.”
  • “I feel insecure.”
  • “I figure it out on the fly.”
  • “When I am in India*, I do it all the time because that is what is expected. But when I’m here [in America], I avoid it.” Further into the conversation, she admitted she’s never negotiated her salary. (*The person is South Asian.)
  • “I am assertive, collaborative, kind, compassionate, in service, generous, firm.”
  • “It makes me anxious.”

What do you notice about the above?

What struck me is that most of the words are not really positive. Also, no one said they “liked” doing it. Nor did they describe themselves as being “good” at it. I find this all quite interesting.

Especially when you consider (a) you negotiate something every day, and (b) the skills of negotiating are the same as the ones you use in other areas of your life – also every day.

So, what is it about stating your case and advocating for what you need and want that makes it something people frequently dread?

The fact that it can often bring you out of your comfort zone probably explains it to some degree. But I’m sure that doesn’t tell the full and compete story. (If you have ideas, please let me know.)

Wherever you go, there you are

In the meanwhile, here’s my two-cents on a shift I believe is needed if you and I are to improve our negotiation style, tactics and outcomes. And, it starts (much like everything does) with heightening your self-awareness about who and how you are. Especially in contexts other than those where you are purposefully negotiating.

Meaning: In general, do you like to compete; do you view yourself as a collaborator; do you have a tendency to compromise – and not feel good about it ; do you often avoid tricky conversations – regardless of the topic; do you find yourself being so accommodating that you downplay your own needs and wants?

Compete, collaborate, compromise, avoid and accommodate are common and different styles of negotiating. And more than likely you tend to use a combination of these styles…unconsciously. Because your style’s origin can probably be traced back to your temperament (nature); to your upbringing (nurture); and to any modifications you’ve made based upon experience.

Therefore, the first step to enhancing your negotiating style is to pay attention to how you interact in other spheres of your life. Because that is who you are bringing to the negotiating table – literally and figuratively.

A skill is a skill

Again, unscientific and likely not comprehensive. But when I sat down to “dissect” the skills that are applied during most negotiations, I came up with the following list (in no particular order): analysis; preparation; active listening; emotional control; social skills; problem-solving; decision-making; communication.

Let’s take a look at how you practice each of these in your everyday life, outside of “negotiating” scenarios:

  • Analysis
    It’s probably easier to ask you what part of your day doesn’t include some sort of analysis than to ask what does. From the moment you wake up, you are weighing and examining data, options and potential outcomes against the back-drop of an intended goal. Some days that is as simple as, “Which subway line will get me there faster?” or “Which route should I drive?” Other days, it’s much more complex, “We finally found a school where our child with special needs thrives; where is the tuition money going to come from?”
  • Preparation
    In other words, do you get “ready” for what you want? Said differently, do you set goals; do you set boundaries: do you set expectations; do you arm yourself with information; do you think through possible outcomes? Do you assess the resources you’ll need?
  • Active listening
    Do you pay attention to both what is said as well as what isn’t? Do you also tune into body language, which includes tone when speaking by phone? Are you using open-ended questions as a way of listening to understand? Do you stay present by monitoring your self-talk?
  • Emotional control
    Do you keep your emotions in check when you feel slighted? Maybe someone bumps into you and they don’t apologize. Or, maybe someone skips the line – as if you aren’t waiting, too. Sure, it pissed you off, but you still choose to respond in a calm, controlled manner.
  • Social skills
    This is somewhat related to emotional control and communication, but it is largely about being aware of your “environment.” Do you pause before speaking to weigh the impact of your words? Do you consider cultural norms (or expectations) as you interact with people?
  • Problem-solving
    What solution are you working on today? There is something you’re trying to figure out the answer to, or that you are trying to fix. There is some gap you’re trying to close. What you do and how in the space between “here” and “there” — that’s problem-solving.
  • Make a decision
    You may not always like the decisions you feel you have to make. But you make them – in fact, you make several on any given day.
  • Communication
    This where all of the above comes together, really. Communication is about talking, messaging, making a connection, and making a decision. But to hear and be heard, you have to be clear and work on minimizing misunderstandings.

If you’re reading this in the morning, think about the day before; if you’re reading this in the evening, think about the current day and take a moment to jot down examples of how you’ve practiced the above skills throughout your day. Because…

…the second step to enhancing your negotiating style is this: remember you already possess the skills.

So, lean into the skills at which you are good and commit to improving those that you aren’t. But don’t let the context of being in a negotiation blind you to the fact that you are aptly equipped with knowing how to.

What’s your mindset?

I’ve been on this kick to make April #negotiationawareness month because I want you to dread it less. I want to change how you perceive negotiation, and I want you to feel more confident – not just in getting a resounding, “yes,” but also in the process you travel to get there.

What I really want is for you to pay more attention to the moments you don’t view as “negotiating” so you can be more intentional about the moments when you are. And in the process, make negotiating less painful, more fun and more successful.

But there is one more skill we need to discuss, and it is so important that it stands alone as a key step!

This is the third step to enhancing your negotiating style: Discernment.

Discernment is one of those things that can only come from experience, but it’s critical. It is THE skill that will help you know when to:

  • Walk away – temporarily or forever
  • Be quiet and the let the silence speak and give you feedback
  • Talk first, espmoney first
  • Make concessions
  • Pause and slow the process down
  • Leave your ego at the door

To use the game of baseball as a metaphor, let’s use the field as a visual for when you are negotiating and off the field when you aren’t. A good negotiator pays attention to his or her style and the skills they use the most (and need to improve) when they are off the field, so that when they are on the field and at bat, they can knock it out of the park!

Here’s to knocking it out of the park!!

p.s. I’m a Yankees fan; it’s baseball season…I couldn’t resist -:)

p.p.s. Would you like to join us at the table for “Lean In/Lean Out: Discover the Best Negotiating Strategy & Tactics For You?” If yes, click here to RSVP by 4/26. The dinner is in midtown Manhattan on April 30th at 6:30pm.

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