Negotiation For Interview

Jun 9, 2010 by

Reading all about the latest set of strikes at BA over the weekend got me thinking about how we negotiate… or, perhaps more often, how we don’t.

Negotiation skills are fundamentally important.

In all aspects of what we do, from our personal relationships through to our working lives, but most especially in an interview situation and when you’ve been offered a job, learning to negotiate is a very powerful skill.

Here, then, are some thoughts for your consideration… even though those closest to me might suggest that I could do with using some of these ideas myself just a little more frequently.

How do people get what they want?

There are four basic methods:

  1. Command - telling people that a decision is not for discussion. An example is the giving of an order to a soldier under fire.
  2. Coercion - forcing people to do what you want, especially when they are resistant. It’s hard to think of a time when this is appropriate.
  3. Arbitration - this is where we allow an impartial third party to decide. An example might be a Judge considering a civil dispute.
  4. Negotiation - co-operating to establish a mutually acceptable agreement. This is what we are talking about today.

So what happens if you give a Command? You’ll get what you want in the short term, but there may be a lack of long term commitment. Even soldiers, who are used to taking commands from superior ranking people, will cease to obey if the commands end up getting their squad-mates killed more often than they feel is reasonable.

What about Coercion? Again, short term compliance may be forthcoming but longer term repetition of the style will be likely to foster resentment and grudges. Think of the boss who throws her weight around and “bullies” the staff into doing what they want. Picture the manager who spends his time coercing a team-mate to do something they don’t really believe is the correct course of action. Isn’t it fair to say that most of us would, eventually, seek a way to escape from this style?

Arbitration? In the short term, it may well be an easy way out… but long term, because there is a third person deciding, you tend to find that nobody really gets what they want. This style works best for one-shot rulings, such as in disputes between organisations. That said, in the longer term, expensive and lengthy arbitration is also a process that can lead to significant resentment. Who wants to keep accepting the judgement of someone outside of the situation?

If we negotiate, however, we can seek to get an acceptable outcome in the short-term… and a willingness to collaborate again in the long term.

Think “Win-Win”

You might recognize the phrase “win-win” from the work of Stephen Covey. That’s what we’re striving for with negotiation.

There are, however, other outcomes too: “win-lose” and “lose-lose”.

A win-win situation:

  • meets the needs of both parties
  • is achieved through two-way communication
  • is arrived at via a flexible approach, open to finding the “third alternative”
  • concentrates on mutually agreeable objectives
  • maintains and develops the long-term relationship

If somebody is looking for a win-win solution you will find that they often take a realistic opening position in the negotiation. The discussion will centre on the needs and interests of both parties, highlighting common ground. The negotiator will likely use inclusive language, such as “our” goals, talking about what “we” want, and what might be best for all of “us”. Issues will be considered collaboratively, in a non-threatening way. You might witness open questions, a trade of information, calm but assertive physical posture, relaxed tone of voice, and a genuine expression of honesty and respectfulness.

The classic clues of win-lose:

By contrast, in a win-lose scenario, you’ll probably see the creation of an “us and them” distinction. Each party might be seeing only through their own point of view. There might be a strong emphasis on immediate solutions rather than long-term mutual benefit. Conflicts may well also become personalized, as energies are directed only towards “winning” without allowing the other side to also “win”.

To all intents and purposes, the “winner” in win-lose may be using coercion, while the “loser” may be failing to express and work towards fulfilling their own needs.

The parties involved may not consciously realise that they are doing this stuff… but win-lose might include:

  • taking an extreme opening position
  • making demands
  • only considering one position
  • using language such as  ”I”, “me”, and “you”
  • focus on gaps rather than areas of agreement
  • seeking single solutions
  • attempts to exploit power or position
  • appearance of threatening posture
  • tendancy for one side to talk a lot
  • questions might be closed and/or leading
  • there may be a sense of dishonesty and/or a tense tone

Let’s avoid lose-lose too:

In a lose-lose scenario neither party achieves their objectives. There is essentially going to be disillusionment with the negotiating process. Frustration, loss of respect and trust, damage to long-term relationships, and solutions that don’t please anyone are what is forthcoming from lose-lose.

You may be able to recognize this kind of scenario when you witness stubborn responses from both parties, a refusal to listen to each other, and a lack of willingness to explore areas of common interest. Outcomes may include watered-down “compromises” and a failure to reach any kind of real or lasting agreement.

The behaviors are likely to be similar to what you witnessed with win-lose… but nobody is giving way.

Taking the negotiation plunge.

So, you choose to negotiate. You want to negotiate for everyone’s long-term benefit.

Perhaps you are negotiating a contract with your new employer. Who wouldn’t want that to be arranged to suit everyone, long-term?

Decide on your objectives.

Let’s just list some useful questions that will get you out of the starting gate on the right footing:

  • What is the long term aim?
  • What do you hope to achieve?
  • How many ways are there that result in you getting what you want?
  • Which objectives are fixed? (i.e. must haves)
  • Which objectives are variable? (i.e. it would be nice if)
  • What do you need to consider and prepare ahead of the negotiation?
  • What are your counterparts’ likely answers to the above questions?

You clearly need to know what your ideal outcome is but also to identify the minimum you would be prepared to accept. That being said, many people forget to consider, and to try to anticipate, the most and least favoured positions of the other party.

Appraise the situation.

By establishing the likely areas of agreement and conflict, you can prepare and plan for them. You would be well advised to take account of the relative positions of each party.

For example, the buyer will be in a strong position when demand is not urgent and can be postponed. Suppliers are anxious for business. Is the buyer the only customer needing the product or service, are there alternatives, or does the buyer know that the supplier is in a difficult position?

Alternatively, the supplier will be in a strong position when demand is urgent, they have high-demand elsewhere, when they are a monopoly, or when their reputation is valued, they own specialist tooling or knowledge, or they know the specific details of the buyer’s position.

It is perhaps easy to see that the buyer could be an employer, and the supplier a prospective employee. As an interviewee, if you have genuinely unique or rare knowledge that the employer needs then you’re in a stronger (but not unassailable) position; more commonly, however, the tables are likely to be in the favour of the employer.

Move to persuade.

empathy + sincerity = persuasion

We’ve discussed that equation before.

Add to this approach what we might call your “projection” – the way you come across to the other party. You want to appear confident, credible, and as possessing an impressive offering. If you can couple this “projection” with high levels of empathy, and you can demonstrate having a genuine understanding of the other person’s point of view, then you will more likely produce both agreement and commitment to the satisfaction of both parties.

How do we get our message across? In a study by Albert Mehrabian, he suggested that only 7% of a message is communicated in the words you choose; 38% is in the tone of the voice and 55% in body language. Rather than repeat much of what has been said before, and to avoid waffling on, just remember to be very aware of your body language. Understand what might appear assertive, what is likely to be considered aggressive, and what may appear submissive. You’re aiming to be co-operative, a mixture of collaborative and accommodating.

Above all else do one thing: Listen. Actively.

You can get much more on this topic from most basic negotiation courses. Alternatively you could read the book, “Crucial Conversations“.

Hopefully you’ll find ways of achieving win-win agreements with current or future employers.


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