As CEO of a commercial skills training and coaching company that has helped thousands of people master the art of negotiation, I often ask my clients what was the most difficult negotiating situation they have found themselves in. And more often than not, they say it was when they had to negotiate internally. For most people, negotiating with a colleague or manager is far more challenging than negotiating with a customer or supplier because of the relationship involved. Yet we all negotiate internally on a daily basis – every time we ask someone to do something for us or we are asked to do something for others – often we don’t even realise we’re doing it because there are no commercials involved.
The secret to successful internal negotiations is to draw on your EQ – the ability to manage your own emotions and those of others – to help you influence the other party and find an overlapping position. The great news is that your EQ – unlike your IQ – is not fixed, it can be developed over time. So as an EQ practitioner with more than 25 years commercial experience, here are 5 steps to help you develop your self-awareness, social skills, self-management and ambition in order to achieve a negotiating outcome that leaves both parties feeling like winners.
- Understand what makes you tick
The first step to harnessing your EQ is to develop your self-awareness for as Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. You need to take the time to understand your own negotiating strengths and areas for development. A great way to do this is to take a personality profiling test to gain a greater understanding of your communication style or to ask for feedback from work or trusted friends. Next, write down your key motivators and drivers as this will influence your negotiating style and help you recognise the impact you have on your counterpart before, during and after the negotiations.
- Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes
Once you have identified exactly what you want to achieve from the negotiation, you need to draw on your empathy – another key EQ skill – to see things from you colleague’s point of view so you can understand their particular needs – both commercially and personally. It’s important to remember that the best negotiations benefit both parties, so it is vital you remind yourself of their needs as part of your preparation. Take the time to anticipate any obstacles in your path. By planning ahead in this way you are far more likely to be able to think live in the moment and avoid the 3 Ds of negotiation – deadlock, disagreement and disappointment. Don’t forget – as colleagues you probably know far more about each other than you would if you were negotiating externally – so use this information to your advantage when you are doing your preparation.
- Balance the playing field in your mind
The biggest danger when negotiating internally is coming to the negotiating table on the back foot because you are worried about upsetting the relationship. You need to avoid adopting a master/servant mind-set to keep the negotiations on a level playing field. Inner confidence is key here, so you need to think of all the positives about the situation, your relationship with your colleague and your own performance. Another potential pitfall is the power of precedence – remind yourself that just because they have said ‘no’ before – doesn’t mean they are going to say it this time. Flip any negatives into positives and adopt a winning mind-set by writing down all the reasons why they should agree to your proposal.
- Keep your ambition levels high
Mastering your ambition is essential to success in all negotiations. You need to be consciously ambitious in your preparation, at the start, during your conversation and at the end. You always need to start the negotiations ahead of your ideal to give yourself a proper chance of securing the best outcome. For example, if you definitely need two extra people to deliver a project on time, start by asking for three – this way you are far more likely to secure the two additional resources you require. Remember to create wins for the other party – no one wants to feel they are being taken for a ride so always have a list of variables you are prepared to offer in return. This will help you build trust and collaboration with your counterpart over the long term, enabling you to work together to achieve an outcome that benefits both parties.
- Draw on your self-control
The ability to manage yourself and your emotions is absolutely key to negotiating successfully internally. You therefore need to dial up your self-control to recognise and respond to any negotiating gameplay that may come your way. By gameplay, I’m talking about the unfair use of tactics designed to put you on the negotiating back foot. This could be trying to undermine you by saying, “I’ll talk to your manager instead” or intimidate you by saying, “I need you to make a decision now.” Sometimes, your counterpart will be behaving in this way deliberately, other times they will be doing it unwittingly. In either case, you need to show that this behaviour is unacceptable. Once you’ve recognised the use of gameplay, you need to take a deep breath to ready yourself, then respond rather than react in a situationally appropriate way. Show the other party that you know what their game is and you won’t allow them to make you feel inferior. Humour can often be a good way of handling tactics; by naming their behaviour, dealing with it and then moving the conversation on, you can get back to the business at hand – finding an overlapping position that benefits both parties.
My final piece of advice is to remember that mastering the art of internal negotiation doesn’t just happen overnight – it takes ambition, commitment and practice. So, draw on your resilience and bounceback from any setbacks by taking the learnings and moving forwards. Follow the principle of plan, do and review to evaluate what worked well in the negotiations and what could be improved for next time. By raising your negotiation game in this way, you will be well on your way to becoming a master negotiator.