When Negotiating at Work, “Words NOT for the Wise”

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Recently I was asked by a CEO client to attend a meeting scheduled to resolve open issues between her and the Board’s compensation committee. There were unresolved issues regarding her existing contract, and these issues stood as a roadblock to her employment contract being extended. Both sides wanted to move forward with the new contract extension, but both didn’t want to do so until the impasse was resolved.

The Board had retained an executive compensation consultant to present its view that the prior contract had not been properly understood by my CEO client, and thus she was mistaken in believing that she was due a large sum of money. I was prepared to present my client’s differing view. I understood the Board’s view, it was reasonable. But our view was reasonable, as well. Fortunately for my client, their negotiator’s presentation was barely understandable. And since it wasn’t understandable, it was not convincing.

Half of the words, phrases and concepts presented by my adversary were essentially unintelligible; the other half were confusing. His negotiation strategy seemed to be “in order to convince them, confuse them,” but it wasn’t working. His sentences seemed to be strings of “capability implementation,” “OS versus PGM,” “systems and operational metrics” and similar such gibberish. The more he talked, the more everyone in the room was confused, then annoyed, and finally impatient. Seeing how well things were going for us, I politely asked their wordy compensation consultant to continue. It was as if his Ph.D. stood for Pretty Highwinded Dissertation. Quite simply, he negotiated against himself by failing to grasp that negotiation is a matter of motivation, and motivation requires communication. His own words destroyed his efforts to communicate, and hence, his effectiveness. My presentation consisted of six simple sentences; my client’s position was accepted.

LESSONS TO LEARN: Five of the seven steps in The SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method of Workplace Negotiating take place before face-to-face negotiation. This reflects the critical point that success in workplace negotiating is determined in good part by what we do before we get to the negotiating table. Negotiation, like war, is for the most part won or lost in its preparation stages, that is, before we enter the conference room or “battlefield.” That critical understanding is often overlooked by unsuccessful negotiators. You must spend far more time planning your presentation than actually delivering it.

At the same time, your actual presentation is important, too, and should not be minimized or overlooked. Extreme care and forethought also need be put into how, when, and why you say what you say at the negotiation table. Remember: how well you speak does not determine how well you communicate: it is how well you are understood that determines if your communication is successful.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ reminds us that a powerful presentation is important. But powerful does not necessarily mean overpowering. In negotiating, when you present your requests, and the reasons for your requests, bear in mind that simplicity is essential, clarity is critical, and communication is your primary goal. Strive to reduce your word and sentences to limited, controlled, effective communication. Limit your discourse to what needs to be said. Work hard at being easy to understand.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are a few powerful pointers to help you be a more powerful communicator in your negotiations:

1. Observe: Who are you negotiating with? Know as much as you can about them: their education, their perspective, their worries, their hopes, their goals, their sensitivities, their time pressures, perhaps most important: their own view of their own most important interests.

2. Listen: The hardest thing to learn about negotiating is the easiest thing to do: listen, listen, listen to every word, every phrase, every rise in volume of voice, every intonation, every veiled threat and every time the other person’s neck seems to tighten, making the pitch in their voice just a notch higher. As the old saying goes, “Listen to their words, but listen to their ‘music,’ too.”

3. Be empathic: When negotiating anything, empathy always pays . . . in three big ways. First, if you can get into the habit of recognizing your negotiating-counterpart’s concerns, you will begin to more quickly understand what he or she needs and/or wants, and that is the key to motivating them. Second, if you share those feelings, you can better address those concerns in a way that will more likely be to your benefit. Third, if you recognize and address their concerns, it dramatically increases the likelihood they will have the tendency, authority and desire to address your concerns. That’s the heart and soul of our SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method.

4. Speak “Simply”: That is, In Plain English, with Simple Sentences. Efforts to overpower by using big or technical words will turn off your audience, and reduce your negotiating effectiveness. That’s not to say you should “talk down” to your negotiating-partner, but when in doubt, practice simplicity. Remember what Leonardo DaVinci always said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

5. Speak with “Structure”: That is, emphasize one point at a time. And make your points in a simple, logical order. Pretend that you have outlined your presentation, and then follow that outline. It may help you to say, “First . . . Second . . . Third . . .Finally . . .”. People like to have roadmaps, and to see a roadmap in your thoughts. It helps to lead them to . . . yes, you guessed it, your conclusion.

The SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method for workplace negotiating is a powerful tool to help you achieve the job security and career success everyone seeks. In order to negotiate well, first you must communicate well. And that’s up to you.

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