Chapter Corner

Find the Leading Edge: The Art of Negotiation

Posted in: Features, September/October 2013

Insights_NovDecPic.gifAn essential skill in any good leader’s arsenal is the ability to negotiate. “Negotiation” is defined as “discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.” As anyone in the business world can attest, this is not always the simplest of tasks. We need a series of guidelines to achieve unity of purpose in any productive discussion. The specific method to use for optimum give-and-take is that of principled negotiation.

Principled negotiation, or “negotiating on the merits,” achieves success by being hard on the problem and soft on the people. This is effective because it takes away the roadblocks to real communication. The essence of this method can be summarized in five points:

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Focus on underlying concerns, not stated positions. Ask why.
  3. Generate a variety of solutions before deciding what to do.
  4. Base agreement on objective standards or fair procedures.
  5. Prepare in advance what you’ll do if negotiation fails. Know your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

It’s also important to remember that people are in a constant negotiation, frequently looking for an edge in obtaining the most efficient solution possible. During a negotiation, everything you want is owned or controlled by someone else. This knowledge helps us break our methods down further to the critical factors of power, information, and time. Power in negotiation comes down to influence. Specifically, what makes one person able to influence another person. Information is the knowledge that can be used to influence the negotiation. The time element comes into play in how critical the negotiation is to either party’s ultimate success.

With all this in mind, let’s get more specific about effective negotiating skills. The “Big Three” in skilled negotiation include perception, emotions, and communication. If you can master these three skills, every negotiation you engage in will create a success for both parties involved.


Ever heard the term “perception is reality?” It holds just as true in the case of negotiation. Perception is understanding the way the other side thinks. As you negotiate, your perception can be enhanced by a few simple steps.

  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Don’t deduce their intentions from your fears.
  • Don’t blame them for your problem.
  • Discuss each other’s perceptions.
  • Look for opportunities to show them you’re not who they think you are; give them a reason to think you’re flexible.
  • Give them a stake in the outcome; have them participate in the process.
  • Make your proposals consistent with their values.


Another guideline that goes hand-in-hand with perception is emotion. By letting emotion affect our style of negotiation, we can be perceived in ways that hurt our bottom line. With this in mind, be aware of what you are feeling. The following are guidelines for dealing with emotions during persuading sessions.

  • Recognize and understand emotions – yours and theirs.
  • Acknowledge emotions and make them a focus of discussion if necessary.
  • Allow the other side to let off some steam.
  • Use symbolic gestures; invite the other side to join you for dinner or a cup of coffee. Show them you care about them as people.
  • Don’t react in kind to emotional outbursts.


After harnessing our emotions and winning the game of perception, we can move on to more open, honest, two-way communication. Here are some proven psychological techniques to improve communications.

  • Speak to be understood and reduce outside distractions by keeping confidence and com- munication in private.
  • Speak about yourself, not about them. Use first person.
  • Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.
  • Don’t simply react. Think before you speak, then speak with a purpose.

Armed with these guidelines, we can still run into roadblocks on the way to success. Prepare in advance for what to do if the negotiation fails. In other words, know your BATNA. It’s always important to have a backup plan so invent a list of actions you might take. Next, convert the most promising ones into realistic options and then select your best option. This option becomes your “walk-away alternative.” Judge every offer against this alternative. While you’re at it, consider the other sides of BATNA. The more you understand the alternatives, the better prepared you will be for negotiation. Here’s how:

  • Don’t attack the other person’s position – look behind it.
  • Don’t defend your ideas. Instead, invite criticism and advice.
  • Recast an attack on you as an attack on the problem.
  • Ask questions, then pause. Silence can be very effective.

It’s important to use all of your options, whether it’s your top priority or your best alternative. Keep everything on the table without narrowing the negotiation down to only one item. One common mistake in negotiation is to make the whole discussion about price. If you narrow the give-and-take down to one issue and it is price, someone has to win and someone has to lose. When you include every facet along with price in the negotiation, you have a real chance at an agreement that fosters communication in the future.

In the end, the art of win/win is to piece together the various elements. Different people want different things. We assume other people want what we want, and that is not always true. Don’t fall into the trap of making these kinds of assumptions. We assume price is the most dominant issue in a negotiation, but there are many elements other than price that are important to people. Once we master all the elements of effective negotiation, each party will walk away feeling they have made the ultimate agreement.

Norb Slowikowski is a Productivity Consultant who has been working in the construction industry since 1982. He is the author of the published book entitled, “Hard-Hat Productivity: The 9 Critical Factors for Maximizing Profits.” Contact Norb at or (630) 910-8920.

Slowikowski’s session, “Leadership Dynamics,” will take place Friday, September 27 at 1:15 p.m. at the 56th Annual IEC National Convention & Electric Expo in Portland, Oregon.