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Want to Be a Better Negotiator?

Whilst we often think of negotiations in terms of sales and agreeing the final price, school leaders are often negotiating shared agreements and establishing common ground.

In my work with over 100 school leadership teams on understanding and utilising their strengths, the weakest link or blind side in almost all of those teams, has been the ability to influence. The ability to negotiate is a powerful and important skill as school leaders work with people, all day, every day. Whether we are negotiating a next step, a way forward or the resolution of a problem with a parent, a staff member or a student, we are often negotiating.

The following 10 lessons from the book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depends On It by Chris Voss are beneficial for school leaders (as well as real estate agents!)

1 Listen to understand, not to reply. The best negotiators are great listeners. They pay attention to what the other person is saying, both verbally and nonverbally. They also ask questions to clarify what the other person is thinking and feeling.

2 Built rapport. Negotiating is a human interaction, so it’s important to build rapport with the other person. This means being respectful, understanding and empathetic. It also means finding common ground and building trust. Keeping the big picture in mind and establishing a common purpose can be beneficial at this stage.

3 Understand the other person’s needs. What are they trying to achieve in the negotiation? What are their priorities? Once you understand their needs, you can start to see the negotiation from their perspective. It is very important not to make early assumptions about their needs. Check to understand and avoid making presumptions.

4 Be creative. There is no one right way to negotiate. The best negotiators are flexible and willing to think outside the box.

5 Be persistent. Negotiating can be tough but it’s important to be persistent. Don’t give up easily. Keep trying different approaches until you reach an agreement that works for everyone involved.

6 Use the CALM acronym:

Clarify: make sure you understand what the other person is saying.

Agree: find areas where you can agree.

Listen: pay attention to what the other person is saying, both verbally and nonverbally.

Mirror: reflect back what the other person is saying to show that you are listening.

7 Use the five “Whys?” technique: Ask “Why?” five times to get to the root of the issue.

You can see the power of the 5 “Whys?” in this example.

A teacher is frustrated by a student’s behaviour and demands that “Billy” be suspended from class.

You ask “Why?”

The teacher responds that he yells out in class and is always very disruptive.

You ask, “Why do you think he does that?”

The teacher responds that they don’t know but it disrupts the class.

You prompt with, “Why could he behaving that way?”

The teacher answers, “He hates this class and doesn’t like me, he knows he gets attention being the class clown!”

You then ask, “Why do you think he hates this class?”

The teacher answers, “His literacy skills are really poor and he isn’t interested in this subject!”

You continue to prod with, “Why do you think that?”

The teacher then explains their beliefs about the student and plans can be developed for getting further information or platting a different course of action.

8 Use silence: Silence can be a powerful tool in negotiation. It can give you time to think or it can put pressure on the other person to speak. Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations recommends “Letting silence do the heavy lifting!” Most people don’t like having difficult conversations. After we have said something that is important or significant we can move into ‘rescuer’ mode and fill the void of silence by saying more.

9 Be patient: Negotiation takes time. Don’t expect to reach an agreement quickly. Both parties should feel that they can ‘live’ with the agreement. It isn’t about ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ but understanding the agree course of action and why.

10 Trust your gut: Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If your gut feeling tells you this isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to call a break and set a time to revisit the issue after you have all had time to reflect.

Working with people is difficult but important work.