148 - PERSONAL PERFORMANCE UPDATE

 

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR NEGOTIATING SKILLS

 

Many engineers look upon negotiating as an unpleasant, stressful chore to be avoided at all costs. And, because they're uncomfortable with negotiating and the confrontation and risk taking it entails, these engineers frequently get the short end in bargaining sessions.

Success in negotiations can increase your salary; get you a better position, gather support for your project or department; gain approval for a budget; and Improve your chance for success on the Job. Therefore, it pays to overcome your aversion to haggling and to improve your negotiating skills. You can gain immediate improvement simply by following the suggestions presented below.

 

The Win-Win Negotiation

When most of us think of negotiating, we assume one of two things will happen: either we'll win or we will lose. But the pros don't look at it that way. They know that a successful negotiation is one in which both sides feel like winners...at least to some degree.

When you sit down to bargain, don't feel you have to win on every issue. Score major victories, but concede small points. Ask yourself, "What can I give up that will please the other person without putting a major dent in what I want out of this?"

 

Everything Is Negotiable

Many corporate workers like to think t at certain company policies and procedures are unchangeable, as commandments etched in stone. The fact is, nothing is unchangeable and everything is negotiable.

Knowing this fact is a powerful advantage in bargaining. For example, an engineering consultant, negotiating his fee with a client, was told that the company could not go along with his request for partial payment in advance. "I don't see anything wrong with it but my hands are tied," explained the project manager. "Company policy doesn't allow payment until at least part of the work is completed."

The consultant knew better than to accept this at face value. "Bill," he replied, "I appreciate that that may be the way you normally deal with suppliers. But as an independent consultant, I receive payment up front from people who want to hire me. I know that this policy is just a guideline set by management and management can break it if it wants to. And I am telling you that you have to break it if you want me to take on this project for you." A week later, the consultant received a purchase order and a check for one-third of his fee.

 

The Rule of 3

Before you sit down to bargain, you should have three figures or positions fixed firmly in your mind:

        The maximum--the highest figure. The most you dare ask for without fear of "blowing away" your Opponent.

        The minimum--the bottom line. The lowest figure you'd settle for.

        The goal--a realistic figure you have a good chance of getting. The goal is probably between 50 and 75 percent of the maximum.

 

It pays to be optimistic and aim high when setting your maximum. For example, a scientist requesting funds to purchase a new piece of laboratory equipment might be able to buy an adequate machine for between $15,000 and $50,000. If he proposes $50,000, and management cuts his budget in half he ends up with a $25,000 machine. But by setting his initial request 20 percent higher, at $60,000, a cut In half would leave him with $30,000--and a machine with $5,000 more in capabilities and performance.

When negotiating, try for your goal but be prepared to accept any offer between the minimum and the maximum. In some cases you may be surprised to find that the maximum is approved without argument. At other times, your opponent may not even grant you the minimum. If this happens, you may be forced to consider more drastic action such as going to your opponent's supervisor, threatening to quit, or changing jobs.

 

YOU Set the Rules

The person who controls the negotiation is usually the one who has set the guidelines. Make sure this person is you--and not your opponent.

To do this, say, "Before we get started, I'd like to go over the situation as it stands, and outline what we hope to accomplish here." Then go on to state things as you see them. The other person will generally agree, interjecting only to make a few minor modifications to what is basically your point of view Thus, when you begin to negotiate, you're in control of the situation--because you defined it.

 

You Pick the Time and Place

To succeed in a negotiation, you must be prepared physically, mentally and psychically.

To throw you off guard, the other person may try to force you into a surprise negotiation. A boss, for example, sticks his head in the door and makes a request to which he wants an immediate answer. Or, the phone rings. and a customer suddenly wants an on-the-spot price quotation on a project you and he discussed in vague terms months ago.

Don't be bullied into a negotiation You're not prepared for. Say to the boss, "Gee, I'm in the middle of a rush job. Why don't I drop by your office later this afternoon." Say to the customer, "I'm with someone right now, and it will take me some time to put the figures together. I will call you back tomorrow." No reasonable person would deny these requests, and you will gain time to prepare your case. You'll also enjoy the advantage that comes from holding the negotiation at a time and place of your choosing.

 

An Arsenal of Facts

The best way to prepare for a negotiation is to gather all the facts, statistics, precedents, case histories, documents and other evidence supporting your position

Printed evidence is especially potent. People are skeptical of oral arguments, but they assume that words printed in an article, book or report are true. Collect surveys, studies and article clippings, make copies, and highlight or underline key facts to make them leap off the page. Unleash this powerful support when you fee! you are losing ground on a key point.

You may end up using only a small percentage of this material, but you'll negotiate with greater confidence knowing it is available. Experience proves that people who succeed in debates and negotiations are usually the ones who have the most facts.

 

Don't Be Hasty

Engineers and other people who think logically are eager to achieve what psychologists call closure." Closure is a neat, final, well-defined solution to a problem. Technical people seek closure because they are trained to find precise solutions.

But life isn't an equation; negotiations and other "people problems" can't always be wrapped up as neatly as a mathematical proof or engineering design.

When negotiating, you should expect and be willing to accept at least some ambiguity in what is resolved. If 90 percent of the issue is settled, and people in the meeting are beginning to grow restless, let the other 10 percent go for a while. Don't insist that every last detail be buttoned down that day; otherwise, you risk angering people and losing the ground you've gained.

On the other hand, don't start giving in to your opponent just because you're tired and cranky and ready to go home. Instead, call for a break. Sum up where you are so far, and suggest wrapping it up in a future session...when, thanks to a few days rest and contemplation, everyone will be able to approach the situation with fresh Ideas--and fresh minds.

 

The Human Touch

Above all, remember that you're dealing with human beings, not machines or chemicals.

You'll have an edge if you learn as much as you can about your opponents before you sit down to negotiate. Be aware of the personalities involved and adjust your "sales pitch" accordingly. Top executives, for example, usually want to get to the bottom line in a hurry. They are concerned with the "big picture" and don't want to waste time with minutia.

Technical managers, on the other hand, like to prove that they've kept up with the latest developments in the industry . . . even though they're managers now, and not working engineers. So, before they approve your project, they might want you to explain every detail down to the last nut, bolt, fan and filter.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." You may dislike your opponent or be angry at him for blocking your way, but your negotiations with him should be civil and friendly not argumentative and hostile. Keep your cool when attacked, and respond with sound arguments and supporting facts. not an outburst of temper or shouting.

Try to highlight, whenever possible, the common goals and points of agreement between you. After all, this isn't war, it's a negotiation. The two of you have, for the most part, similar goals; it's your ideas on how to achieve these goals that differ. When responding, use phrases that show your empathy with the other person's position, such as "That's a good point" or "I agree with most of that, but . . ." Make the other person feel like a winner and both of you will be.

About the Authors:

Amy Bly, a freelance public-relations writer, and Bob Bly, an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in industrial advertising, live and work in New Milford, N.J.

Jobs:A Guide To Tomorrow's Top Careers (New York: John Wiley & Sons).