Stay cool to get what you want

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The Independent Online
EVERYBODY loves to get a good deal. But did you realise that your chances of getting your own way may be severely affected if your sparring partner has positioned you in a low chair with the sun in your eyes, a loudly-ticking clock and distracting furnishings nearby, along with constant interruptions?

Conversely, taking control of a situation and preparing a careful brief which encompasses issues such as common ground, authority, influence, commitment and leverage will increase your chances of creating a win-win situation, whether it's getting a pay rise and a new desk, or clinching a deal worth billions.

The basics are obvious - or are they? Peter Fleming, who trains executives in negotiation skills and has written a slim "in a week" book on the subject, believes many people neglect to refine an art which combines assertiveness with astuteness and analysis. He warns: "It gets rusty if it is not used, and is sharper when used frequently."

There are some simple steps to bear in mind for any negotiating situation. First, create the right environment and research your objectives. Decide on what your style is, and that of your opponent. When you open the meeting, talk and listen, make proposals, summarise, then close and confirm. Afterwards, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.

Choosing the right time and avoiding spontaneous negotiation sessions will help you to weigh up your opponent's agenda, and overcome limitations on both sides. Mr Fleming recommends that you seek to build a partnership, deciding early on whether you are seeking a win-lose or a win-win outcome - and assessing whether that matches your opponent's expectations.

You can practise similar techniques when you go out to do the shopping, or think about buying a new car. "The skilled negotiator always prepares a checklist of objectives and uses it to compare actual results from meetings with those that were expected. Any move away from the original plan is then a conscious decision and a target for trading-off concessions from the opponent."

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, having the self-discipline to listen to your opponent and expressing yourself are essentials. But be gentle, advises Mr Fleming. "The use of 'we' is better than 'I'. In fact, self-opinionated negotiators who use an egotistical approach find it difficult to persuade others to change their minds or adopt their proposals."

And although anger can be used to make a short-term point, it can prove to be obstructive. "The golden rule is to keep cool, avoid rhetoric and provocative language and maintain self-control. This can be difficult if the opponent is hyped-up and determined to cause maximum disruption," he says.

Making a proposal is an art form. A conditional approach is often best at basic level, using: "If you will... then we will..." qualified by words such as "perhaps" or "might". But it's important to make sure there is no slippage of your bottom line and to take into account inhibitions which might make your opp- onent obstinate in sticking to his position.

The most crucial part of negotiating is the eventual outcome. Resurrecting earlier issues, using concessions to improve your argument and choosing appropriate persuasion strategies are all factors, says Mr Fleming. He cautions: "It is not possible to do too much summarising in a meeting; the fact is that many become confused during negotiations, and even though one party has a clear belief on what has been agreed, it often happens that the opponent has a different view. Remember the one word which provides the signal of a summary - 'so' - and try to use it."

'Successful Negotiating' is part of a series published by the Institute of Management in conjunction with Hodder and Stoughton, and costs pounds 6.99.