Have you recently participated in a negotiation? Perhaps in the office with your manager regarding benefits versus the workload? Or with a client concerning their problems and your solutions? Or at home, with your family about this week’s dishwashing duties or even about who gets to grab the 8 PM slot and watch their favorite tv show?

If you have faced one or more of these situations, chances are, you have (depending on your conflict-management style) adopted one or more of the five common approaches of negotiation. You may have been:

  • Competitive or dominant, in what’s known as the Win-Lose approach.
  • Retreating or Avoiding, which is basically None Wins.
  • Taking the high road – being very accommodating and saying “I lose, you win”.
  • Highly collaborative, engaging in Win-Win settlements.
  • Compromising on something, to ultimately reach a fair settlement.

While your approach to negotiation might differ based on the situation and people involved, using these six steps as a guideline can help you put your best foot forward.

Step 1: The calm before the storm – prepare.

Ensure that you know the pertinent facts of the situation, including the opposing positions. List questions that you might need answers to. Such preparation before discussing the point of contention will help avoid confusion and get the most out of the discussion.

Step 2: Initiate a preliminary discussion before the final debate

Use this opportunity to put forward your understanding or perspective of the problem situation. Ask other parties involved to do the same. Key skills required for this step: active listening, ability to analyze, and ability to clarify grey areas.

Step 3: Clarify goals

List the goals, interests, and viewpoints of each side. It helps in identifying or establishing common ground. Such a process can prevent misunderstandings from cropping up later.

Step 4: Aim for the ideal ‘win-win’

A great negotiation leaves both sides feeling that they have gained something positive and that their perspectives have been taken into consideration. Although this may not always be possible, try to create such a win-win through your discussions.

Step 5: Reach an agreement

This is achieved by identifying and analyzing both sides’ viewpoints, experiences, and arguments. Keeping an open mind, and evaluating ‘next-best’ options in the absence of the favoured option, can get all parties involved to move towards an acceptable solution.

Step 6: List the final solution or execution plan

Once the agreement has been reached, set it down in writing or capture the solution details, along with roles, tasks, and next steps, so that nothing is left to chance.

Not all negotiations require such a detailed, step-by-step approach. But what they all require is an ability to be calm, objective, and balance self-interest with the needs of the others involved, while finding a solution.

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