Negotiation skills trainer teaches the 'principled approach'
As all successful businesspeople know, sealing or sinking a deal often comes down to the shrewdness of one's negotiating abilities. For trainer Vladimír Nálevka, all of life is a negotiation, and everyone from diplomats at a roundtable to spouses at their kitchen table can get more of what they want with a better understanding of what negotiation really means.
"In a negotiation situation, you have two or more people who need each other," says Nálevka, a consultant with training provider Interquality. "You have to figure out what your negotiation currency is. What do you have that the other side wants?"
Nálevka says students of negotiation often wrongly believe the other side has more power, but in fact, if they are even sitting down at the table with you, it means you have something they want.
Having taught the fine points of negotiation at international companies as well as to Czech diplomats and government employees, Nálevka says there are a few other common misperceptions.
For example, when faced with a negotiation situation, people expend too much energy trying to prove to the other side they are right and their reasons are better, putting too much emphasis on arguments and neglecting the solutions.
"This usually just takes up time and makes the discussions prolonged and boring," he says.
Instead, Nálevka teaches his students a framework of five negotiating stages - preparation, discussion, proposal, bargaining and follow-up - and encourages them to move as quickly as possible to the proposal phase, where they create models of possible solutions.
Many novice negotiators also struggle with the preparation phase, because in addition to identifying their negotiating currency, this is the stage to find their BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), or their plan B in case negotiating doesn't work. Nálevka says people don't like to think about failure, and some would rather skip this step, convinced they will manage some kind of result through the negotiations, but often the strength of someone's position in the negotiation hinges on knowing he or she has a back-up plan.
"You have to keep in mind the reason you're negotiating: to get something better than the best you can get without negotiating," Nálevka says.
So once you're prepared and know what you want, how hard should you push for it? Different circumstances require different tactics. Nálevka says if you're in a one-time-only negotiating situation - for example, with a used-car dealer - it's OK to use hard bargaining techniques. If, however, the relationship of the people involved is important - for example, with family members or co-workers - it's better to use what's called a principled negotiation approach, the goal of which is a win-win outcome.
"Even with principled negotiation, the bargaining stage is always a bit of a tug of war, but that's OK," he says. "I believe most situations require principled negotiation."
Despite training students to execute well-prepared negotiations through role play - and lots of practice - Nálevka says it's also important to keep the matter in context so as not to lose your cool. He says when you start to get emotional about the situation, it's best to take a break and ask yourself if you'll even remember the discussion in a year's time.
"It's like in gangster films," he says. "It's just business, not your whole life."