Effective Communication: Negotiation
Unfortunately, we don't always agree with others. However, in most cases, we must come to some sort of agreement or compromise despite our differences. When faced with this type of situation, it is often necessary to employ some negotiation skills. By understanding some of the basic tactics used in negotiation, you can help ensure that you are effectively communicating and advocating for your ideas.
In this article, you will learn the basics of negotiation. It will also pull together some of the skills you have learned and show you how to utilize them to reach a specific goal. The outcome should be that you can employ these skills to advocate for yourself in situations where conflict has already arisen, as well as to consider others' points of view.
ü What is negotiation?
ü How can I balance assertiveness and compromise?
ü Is it possible to be sensitive to everyone's needs?
ü Will negotiation always work?
What Is Negotiation?
At some point in your life, you may have heard references to "the art of negotiation." Negotiation is sometimes referred to as an art, because there are no hard and fast rules that will always work when you are trying to resolve a conflict or reach a consensus. Basically, negotiation involves using conversation, rather than force, to resolve disputes. It is a complex skill that works with different personalities and ideas to come up with feasible solutions. It is so complex, in fact, that there are professionals whose sole job is to come in and help other organizations and individuals negotiate among themselves.
There are different styles of negotiation, but when you are actively trying to get your point across and have it adopted, you are taking the advocacy approach. Your goal is to try and get the best possible outcome for yourself. This can also be referred to as win-lose negotiation, because you are unwilling to give in on your demands.
There is also a style of negotiation called win-win. In this style, rather than just trying to get your idea implemented, you look at the underlying causes for wanting it implemented. If someone else has a plan that can reach those goals (although through different means), it can still be a "win," as you get what you really want in the long run.
Every negotiation will be different, because you are dealing with human emotions and any number of topics. However, there are some basic structural ideas that can help you with your approach. In general, you will want to follow a process somewhat like this:
1. Set your goals. What is the most important thing for you to get out of the negotiation? This can help you clarify your purpose, so that you're not just trying to win; rather you're actually trying to get something accomplished.
2. Prepare your case. Be sure you know, and are able to explain, why you think your ideas have merit and should be considered.
3. Know your stuff. Take the time to look into the other person's ideas and see what kinds of pros and cons are involved. This step may help you realize that you both want the same thing. On the other hand, it might help you discover where the other ideas are lacking and yours really is superior (or vice versa).
4. Start simple. When negotiating, it can be helpful to start with the easiest topics first. This will get everyone into the spirit of cooperation and will keep tensions from mounting too early on in the process.
5. Keep your cool. Remember that your "adversaries" are not the enemy. They are people just like you, who strongly believe in their ideas. Getting completely irate and irrational is not going to do anyone any good and will most likely make you look bad in the end.
One of the obstacles that often holds us back from being good at advocating for ourselves is the ability to be assertive. Honing this skill is invaluable, when it comes to being an effective communicator, because it ensures that your thoughts and ideas are being heard.
Being assertive means speaking up for yourself, but not doing so to the exclusion of others. In negotiations, it is unlikely that everyone is going to walk away from the table with exactly what they want. Instead, there is a need to compromise.
The word "compromise" is often misused. If you give in on all the points that you wanted, so someone else could get their way, this is not a compromise. In a situation where compromise happens, each party must give up something so that the basic interest of the group can be served. However, there are exceptions to this definition. In the United States, compromise is seen as a situation where both parties lose something, while British interpretation sees is as a situation where both parties win something.
To compromise also means to re-establish goals and desires in order for an entire group to come to agreement. It requires a high degree of communication skills to be done correctly.
Considering Everyone's Needs
In order to come out on the other side of a negotiation with as few bruised egos as possible, it is really important to take everyone's needs into consideration. An effective communicator will do this for two reasons.
1. He or she wants all of the available information to make informed decisions.
2. He or she wants others to recognize they are being considered in the process.
This skill is incredibly useful during negotiation. When someone insists they want a certain demand met, you are able to ensure that you truly understand what they are saying. This keeps you from misunderstanding, and perhaps agreeing to, something you did not intend. The process of active listening can also soften a person's position toward specific demands. Sometimes just having their concerns heard and recognized is enough, and they no longer feel that every aspect of their demand is necessary in the final compromise.
When Negotiation Fails
One of the most famous forms of negotiation is the car deal. You tell the salesperson you're interested in a certain model, and he or she gives you the price. You think the price is too high and tell the salesperson that. He or she explains why the price has to be that high, and then goes off to "talk to the manager." After a couple of visits to the manager, you are probably driving off in a new car.
But, what if the price never did get down to the level you wanted? At this point in time, the negotiation has failed, and it is likely time to walk away. This can be very difficult, as you may have really, really wanted the car.
Additionally, the salesperson has been trained in how to negotiate with you in a way that will make you most likely to purchase the vehicle before all is said and done. You may not be able to negotiate as well as the salesperson, so you therefore lose out on a potentially good deal.
Any type of negotiation has potential to fail. There are a number of reasons why talks can break down. You must decide where you draw the line and walk away. This can be incredibly difficult, depending on the situation. While turning your back on a new car is hard enough, turning your back on a relationship or a job can be even harder. Again, it is a matter of deciding what you can, and will, compromise on in a negotiation.
Whether you work in business or associate with people on a regular basis, constructive criticism is one of the primary skills that will give you an edge in effective communication. Simply put, it is the ability to offer criticism – on any subject – without causing offense or creating more conflict than might already be apparent. For supervisors and managers, the ability to offer constructive criticism means that you can get better results from your employees, without sacrificing respect from either side; and for interpersonal relationships, constructive criticism can help you in avoiding misunderstandings or hurt feelings.
In this article, you will learn how to offer, and receive, constructive criticism. You will also learn the dynamics of the critical relationship.
ü Who may give constructive criticism?
ü What are the differences between criticism for business and criticism for personal reasons?
ü How can I offer constructive criticism?
ü What should I do if I'm on the receiving end of non-constructive criticism?
The Critic-Recipient Relationship
In most cases, you won't be able to offer constructive criticism unless you have a clearly defined relationship with the other party. Criticism – no matter how kindly or benignly it is offered – is generally unacceptable coming from a subordinate, a stranger, or one with whom authority does not figure. For example, constructive criticism is typically offered from an authoritative standpoint (parent to child, teacher to a student, or boss to employee) or from equals (spouses, friends, most family members). Although students and employees may be asked to fill out evaluation forms, it is generally not acceptable for those in lower positions of power to offer criticism, unless the situation warrants it, or their opinion is solicited.
If you are offering criticism on a personal level (say, that of a friend to a friend), it is important to fully expect criticism in return. When you are offering someone advice or direction, feelings of vulnerability inevitably arise. By opening yourself up to the same type of critique, you are less likely to encounter hard feelings or an upset in the relationship.
Consider the following scenario:
James and Orville were friends for years. They recently took a class together on fly fishing. James, whose father was an amateur fly fisherman, greatly exceeded Orville in the classroom skills. Before the class was set to go out on their end-of-class field trip, Orville asked James for some pointers on becoming better at fly fishing. James complied, but only on the promise that Orville would share his own tips on bowling, a sport at which he excelled.
In this situation, James diffused a potentially hazardous situation. Although Orville solicited James for advice, it can be difficult for equals to admit weaknesses and take criticism. By offering Orville the opportunity to share his own expertise, James maintained an equal playing field and strengthened their overall relationship.
If you are called on to offer constructive criticism as a component of your work, or if you find yourself in a personal situation where your advice is either needed or solicited, you should always review the steps of successful constructive criticism. By going into the situation armed with the right tools, you can achieve maximum impact with minimum contention.
Review the Situation
Take a step back from the situation that is calling for criticism. In order to offer advice that is free from potential "danger zones," you have to eliminate your own motives and emotions.
For example, if you are giving an annual review to an employee, make sure you outline exactly what you would like the outcome to be. Your most likely purpose is to get better productivity from your employee. However, when done incorrectly, a review can actually make an employee feel worse about him or herself, the job, and you, as an employer – especially if you focus on things that don't specifically relate to job skills and functions. Make sure you take any personal issues out of the situation and concentrate on what you need to say to get the desired results.
In the same way, it is important to remove any objects of self-interest from the criticism. It is not about how YOU would handle a situation or how it affects YOU. It is about what you can do to help the other person improve. This is neither the time nor the place to set yourself apart as superior in any way.
Look at the Situation From Both Sides
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of criticism knows it can be a hard pill to swallow. Remember what it is like to get advice and criticism – no matter how kindly meant or innocuous it may be. When you put yourself in the other person's shoes, you are more likely to understand the feelings and emotions that inevitably go along with it; therefore eliminating the potential for surprise or conflict.
Consider a parent who is instructing his or her child on the importance of calling to ask permission before inviting a friend over for dinner. Although it may seem like light years away, a parent who can remember what it's like to be young and to want to spend time with a good friend is more likely to get his or her point across than one who looks at everything from a strictly adult point-of-view.
Never Focus on the Person
Just as you must emotionally detach yourself from the criticism, you must also detach the other person's concept of self from the situation. Even if your criticism centers on the behavior or opinions of the other party, it's important to refrain from belittling him or her as a person. Instead, focus on the actions that are causing the problem.
For example, imagine you have a friend whose bad breath is creating social problems. Perhaps your other acquaintances ask you to stop inviting your friend to poker night, since his breath creates unpleasantness for the group, as a whole. Even though it is your friend's hygiene that is in question, you must detach his faults from the scenario. Tell him that the garlic pills he takes every morning might have an effect on the way his breath smells later in the day, or discuss the techniques your dentist recommends for halitosis. By focusing the object of the conversation on physical details, you sidestep any blame on him, as a person.
Use the "Sandwich" Approach
Imagine the side view of a basic ham sandwich. On either end you have a nice, thick piece of bread; in the middle is the lunch meat. Let the ham represent your criticism, and the bread represent positive things you have to say. This deceptively simple idea is the cornerstone of most constructive criticism protocols. By tempering your criticism by "sandwiching" it between compliments or positive things to say, you are eliminating the potential for conflict.
Using the same analogy, you have to keep your proportions equal. Your ham sandwich shouldn't be overloaded with meat – no one wants to be inundated with criticism. Even if you have more issues that need to be addressed, save them for another day's "meal."
Another important concept here is to not make your approach too obvious. For example, if you're offering feedback of an associate's short story, avoid offering a pattern of good-bad-good concepts in the writing. Instead, try to open up a two-sided dialogue that focuses on the good, as well as the not-so-good, points in a more conversational style.
The idea of a two-sided dialogue is central to effectively offering constructive criticism. Even if you're working with a clearly authoritative relationship (for example, boss to employee), there are still two people with valid, important ideas in the room. Listen when the other person talks, and do your best to include what they are saying in your own criticism.
In this same vein, allow the other person in the conversation to take an active part in the decision-making process. Imagine you are offering advice on working as a team for a marketing campaign. You hope to get the other person to stop shooting down everything the team comes up with. Address the problem at hand and invite the other person to come up with some ideas of his or her own. This kind of ownership not only reduces potential conflict, but it generally results in a better end product, as well.
Part of being a good communicator means being able to sit on both sides of a situation. No matter what your position in life may be, there will come a time when you, too, must receive criticism of your own. Although you may be forced to take advice from someone who doesn't use the same principles of offering constructive criticism as you, you can approach the situation in a manner that increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Recognize the Value
You already know how important constructive criticism is in getting others to heed your advice. You are now in a situation where you are on the receiving end. Approach the conversation as you would wish your counterparts to approach it: with an open mind and an eye to self-improvement.
Deflect Personal Attacks
You cannot force the other person to refrain from belittling your character or yourself, as a person, but you can refuse to acknowledge personal attacks. When someone does cross the line between constructive criticism and just plain criticism, verbalize solutions that have to do with your behavior, rather than your person. Eventually, the other person should pick up on your cues.
Use Active Listening
No matter how personal the other person gets, do your best to keep your emotions at bay and focus on the important issues at hand. Rephrase what he or she says in ways that clarify the meaning, but also make the criticism less insulting. Ask questions that demonstrate your willingness to change.
Open Your Mind
Avoid becoming defensive or closing yourself off to the criticism. Remind yourself that the goal is to improve your ability to function as an employee, friend, or spouse. By focusing on the ultimate purpose of the criticism, you may be able to avoid the emotions that can potentially cause greater problems.
Maintain Your Rights
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