A key part of communication in negotiation is understanding the difference between messages sent, i.e. what you think you are saying to the other side, and messages received, i.e. how the other side perceives what you say. For example, if you disagree with the other side and state your reasons clearly you might think that this shows that you are being firm and indicating your boundaries. The other side might regard you as being obstructive, unhelpful and not having really listened to what they have proposed.
Effective communication in negotiation considers carefully the messages being sent during the negotiation and how they might be received by the other side. This starts right at the beginning with establishing a more conducive climate for the negotiation to take place. For most this means not launching straight into a really contentious issue. Remember that our definition of negotiation states that both conflict and agreement have to exist. For many, starting with an area of agreement or common ground helps to establish a climate where the mutual benefit of achieving a workable deal is recognised.
Communication in negotiation – global survey findings
In our 2014 global negotiation survey we did find that successful negotiators were more likely to start with an area of agreement than Unsuccessful negotiators, which suggests that they are more conscious of the need to establish a conducive climate up front and send the message that they want to achieve a deal that is of benefit to both sides. Unsuccessful negotiators on the other hand are much more likely to start with an area of major disagreement, which is likely to have the opposite effect. We also found that negotiators who felt more powerful at the start were more likely to start communication in negotiation with an area of major disagreement, which perhaps explains why they did not always achieve implementable deals.
The most popular area to start a negotiation was resolvable disagreement, where there is some work to do, but it is not too difficult to reach agreement. This creates a climate where both sides feel that they can work together and resolve their differences, which also creates a more conducive climate for the rest of the negotiation, especially when they move onto more challenging issues.
Getting the messages right does not however stop there; effective negotiators keep this in mind throughout the negotiation, especially when it comes to making moves. Consider the following movement strategies. You open with a discount of 4%, then go to 7%, then 9%. What message is that sending to the other side? Answer – you are getting closer to your limit so pushing you harder is going to create a deadlock. Contrast this with a negotiator who opens with 2%, then goes to 5%, then 9%. As the discounts are getting bigger the message sent is that it is worth pushing harder and harder, because there could be even more discount available. It’s a similar message if the discount levels remain the same, ie you start at 3%, then go to 6%, then 9%. The other side is still likely to push hard.
This message is clearly understood by the respondents to our 2014 global survey, because when presented with these options, over half went for the decreasing intervals. The Successful negotiators were also more likely to vote for this option than the Unsuccessful, the latter being more likely to go for increasing intervals or the same interval. Experience also counts in this decision; Professional Buyers were the job role most likely to go for decreasing intervals (65% of them) followed by Sales (58%), which suggests that those most likely to be involved in commercial negotiations are more likely to understand the impact of the commercial message sent.
This concludes our series of blogs focusing on our negotiation research. If you have any further questions about effective strategies in negotiation then please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.
Janet Curran, Head of Thought Leadership, Huthwaite International