What makes negotiation with co-workers different from a one-offs transactional relationship is that previous experience with the other party is tightly intertwined and must be managed carefully before the negotiation begins.
Throughout the negotiation, how “enjoyable” the whole process will also impact future working relationships. If the other side feels being taken advantage of or cornered, they won’t be committed to executing the agreed-upon solutions.
A “successful” negotiation makes future collaboration smoother because you understand what type of negotiators they are. A bad one will lose trust and potentially hurt your reputation across the organization when rumours spread.
This article will walk you through how to preserve relationships and build long-lasting partnerships before, during and after the negotiation.
Call out elephant in the room
Start on the right foot by removing any mental baggage that either party may have about each other. If you have unresolved hard feelings from a previous interaction, it is natural that you won’t even want to “deal” with that person. When the negotiation becomes intense, it will be difficult to remain calm.
Clear the air by pointing out the awkwardness and focus on the 1% that you both agree with. Let’s say the last product launch with the marketing team didn’t go well and you have to work with them on another go-to-market strategy.
“I know the last project could have been smoother. We’ve both agreed on what we could do to work better together. So I’m excited to try out the suggestions we came up with for this launch.”
The last part enforces that both of you agree on how to move forward. Hit the restart button on a positive note. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the negotiation when you observe that the other side is not able to let go.
Another common barrier is the bias the other person has formed about you. You may hear what the other person “thinks” about you from others. Instead of getting mad, take actions to disprove their misconceptions about you. Common tactic salespeople use is starting their pitch with “I’m not trying to sell you anything. I don’t get a commission.”
Using a scenario Product Managers would encounter. I’ve had a tech lead that often brings up tech debt whenever I bring up a new feature. While I know he has the best interest of the project, my heart rises whenever he speaks. One time, I took the conversations offline when the discussion got heated. He said this that changes my future interpretation of his actions.
“I know I talk a lot and sometimes I don’t know if I should bring up tech debt. I want to say it cause I don’t know these issues to go unnoticed”
His self-awareness and struggle make me have empathy for him. Calling out what he thinks (or maybe he knows) is bothering me is also a relief.
Know what types of negotiators you need to influence
On the flip slide, having experience working with the other party gives you information about what type of negotiators they are. Chris Voss, the author of Never Split the Difference, came up with the following three types. Each one has its strength that makes people successful at what they do. You may see a pattern in which people in certain roles are more likely to have a particular negotiation type.
- Signs: Because they won’t hold back from telling you what they want, they can come off as self-centred and pushy. They won’t sugar coat their dissatisfactions and give out “harsh” comments.
- How to negotiate: Be explicit about what you want and don’t want. Deliver your asks in a firm voice and phrase them as statements, rather than questions. If you make a concession, articulate your expectation for reciprocity. They are risk-takers, driven by winning and gains.
- Examples: Sales-driven founders are influenced by the prospect of beating competitors.
- Signs: Expect lots of awkward silence when they process the information you give them. They listen attentively to a small detail that you overlooked.
- How to negotiate: Avoid surprises, like hidden terms, that can catch them off guard. The more facts you can give them, the more trust you will get from them. Show that you’ve methodically thought through all the scenarios and risks with backup plans.
- Examples: Engineers tend to be analysts who need context before making commitments and proposing solutions.
- Signs: Focus on creating harmony and maintaining relationships via making small talks. They may hold back from voicing their objections. When they do, they are often phrased politely in a diplomatic way.
- How to negotiate: May overpromise on things they can’t deliver or things that care about to keep you happy. Watch out for moments when they say “yes” when they meant “no”. Accommodators with less authority are particularly at risk of getting a bad deal. Be patient when they want to get everyone involved and reach an agreement.
- Example: Customer success managers and support are typically accommodators.
Recruit other negotiators
You should self-evaluate to see what type of negotiator you are. An experienced negotiator can read the other party and adapt their style based on the situation. In addition, know your weaknesses so you won’t give in and say yes to a bad deal.
However, it is hard to master all styles. Because you haven’t built the muscles to negotiate using the other styles, you will revert to your natural self during intense moments — even if it works against you. To get around this, find other negotiators who can balance your style. They can jump in when the negotiation is at an impasse or when you are forced to compromise.
Some assertive negotiators are also competitive. They are focused on winning — even if it damages the relationships. If you are the same type of negotiator, seek an accommodative partner to avoid gridlock.
Similar to the good cop-bad cop tactics, accommodators who tend to deprioritize their needs to make others happy should partner with an assertive negotiator who won’t be hesitant to push for what they want.
On the other hand, assertive negotiators should pair with an accommodator who can call “pause” when noticing their fellow accommodators are getting uncomfortable. This avoids other parties from feeling being “bullied”.
If the other party is an analyst, buddy up with a fellow analyst to help you think through the questions the other analyst may ask.
Another reason to recruit other negotiators is when they have power or a more trusted relationship with the decision-maker whom you need to win over. Your ally provides the social proof to move the deal forward. For example, a Product Manager proposing engineers try a different approach will be perceived as a dictator who is stepping over the boundary. The engineers will naturally resist. The same arguments delivered by the engineering lead will be interpreted as providing guidance, which engineers will be far more receptive to.
Make the entire negotiation comfortable
A negative negotiation left a bad taste in one’s mouth, from feeling cornered to being taken advantage of. All of this makes others resent working with you in the future.
To start with, don’t be a car salesman and hard sell your ideas. Rather than assuming your ideas are the right solutions, formulate a hypothesis. Apply the same techniques used in product discovery to validate your hypothesis via user interviews and observations.
Using a story about two chefs fighting over a lemon. By applying the Job-To-Be-Done framework, it came to light that chef A wants the rind to garnish a cheesecake. Chef B needs the juice to make lemonade.
Some people get what they want by throwing off the other party and weakening their positions. However, a flustered mind hinders articulating what each side truly wants. They withhold information necessary for a successful negotiation to protect themselves. No mental energy is left to invent creative solutions. Most importantly, you look like a bully — especially when you are in a position of power.
A more productive tactic is to help them save face, regain their composure and make them feel safe.
Putting this together using a true story
I know I am a combination of analyst and accommodator. I once had to negotiate a launch timeline with an engineering lead who is a mix of analyst and assertive negotiator.
He was concerned that the system couldn’t support the number of users and asked to delay the launch. Asking a series of product discovery questions has uncovered their fear of carrying pager duty when the system goes down.
I could have just flat-out denied the request. However, the accommodator side of me doesn’t want to leave a scar in a relationship. They would feel disempowered in voicing their opinions in the future. At the same time, I cannot delay the launch for an unknown amount of time.
To combat his assertiveness, I clearly stated my ask and position “Knowing the number of active users, I need you to tell me what is the minimum amount of time you need to scale this to a level that you are comfortable with.” This clear ask addressed his assertiveness. The data-driven approach also suited the analyst’s side of us.
In pursuit of suggesting their own timeline, they uncovered short-term solutions that would be sufficient to support the current number of users. These include scaling up the servers to a more powerful machine and reducing the time it takes to complete a request by moving the server closer to where most users are located.