3 Ways to Help Your Team Master Negotiations

Different kinds of negotiations require different kinds of negotiation skills. It’s much less important that people know their “style” than it is for them to know the necessary negotiation skills, including Assertiveness, Empathy, Flexibility, Intuition, and Ethics.

Being able to negotiate is crucial to almost every aspect of business, but teaching negotiation skills is something few businesses do. Instead, companies rely on an outdated idea that people either are, or are not, good negotiators and hire accordingly. By failing to train team members in negotiation, companies may be missing out on fantastic hires and also missing a chance to strengthen their own team members and relationships. Even the best negotiators can learn new skills and strengthen existing skills.

In my experiences as a CFO/COO of different companies, and in my work as a collection agent, I have learned that negotiation skills can, and should, be taught. Through observation and trial and error I’ve found three great ways for training team members on negotiation:

  1. Skills Over Styles: Traditional negotiation training and classes focus on helping students learn and develop their negotiation style. You may have seen or taken quizzes designed to help you determine if you’re collaborative or competitive. Although it’s helpful to team members to understand their individual strengths, pigeonholing people into a specific “style” often is counterproductive. The truth is that different kinds of negotiations require different kinds of negotiation skills. It’s much less important that people know their “style” than it is for them to know the necessary negotiation skills.

These skills include Assertiveness, Empathy, Flexibility, Intuition, and Ethics. All five skills are needed for negotiation, no matter what style the negotiator gravitates toward. Depending on the negotiation, one skill may be more important than another. For example, if you are trying to negotiate a good deal for your company on a service or product, it may be most important to be assertive. However, if you are trying to negotiate a payment from a company on the verge of bankruptcy, being flexible might be more important. Intuition, ethics, and empathy are always critical skills because they allow you to see the situation from all sides and make sure you are behaving in a trustworthy manner.

  1. Games and Ice Breakers: The worst sin you can commit in any professional training is boring your team. If a skill is important enough for your staff to take time out of their day to learn, it’s important enough for you to make it interesting. Refreshing or teaching negotiation skills doesn’t have to be an all-day event. Simple and fun exercises such as a game of charades (can you demonstrate what you want without talking?) can be worked into regular company meetings to help demonstrate skills.

One popular activity is a version of arm wrestling. Place players in pairs and demonstrate the arm wrestling pose, but don’t use the word “arm wrestle.” Tell players that they get a point each time the back of the other person’s hand touches the table. Their goal is to individually get as many points as possible; the other player’s score does not matter. Some pairs will realize that instead of wrestling, they can work together flipping back and forth so that they each gain more points. This quick exercise demonstrates two important concepts of negotiation: the need to rethink your assumptions (some players assume the way to win is to make sure the other person loses) and the need to work together for a solution. You also might look for a theater company or comedy group that does training. Bringing an outside organization in to train allows you, as the boss, to also gain from the training and can prove to be a refreshing change of pace for employees.

  1. Storytelling: One of the most effective ways to teach anything is through a story. Although those of us in financial areas and C-suite offices like facts and numbers, we still learn best from the experiences of others. You can take stories from the news, stories from your own life, or inspirational stories and use them to demonstrate negotiation skills such as empathy, trust, and flexibility. Again, this doesn’t have to take long. The story can be shared as part of a weekly e-mail or company meeting. Authors such as the late Stephen Covey or the popular “Chicken Soup” series can be great resources for finding appropriate stories.

You also can ask team members to bring in their own examples of stories that demonstrate negotiation skills. This is a great way to learn more about your team members and let them learn more about each other, strengthening the key negotiation skills of empathy and understanding and creating a closer knit workforce.

No one is born a master negotiator. In our families, at school, on the playground, and at work, we all slowly gain the information and skills we need to help us achieve our goals. Training your staff to improve their negotiation skills is a doable and rewarding experience.

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has 35 years of international business experience, traveling to 40-plus countries to negotiate more than $500 million in mergers and acquisitions and other business deals. He previously owned a manufacturing firm that counted Disney, Warner Brothers, Macy’s, and Hard Rock Casinos as customers. For more information, visit: http://www.kaplancollectionagency.com/


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