What Do You Want

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 10-14-2005

Negotiation's Not an Art, It's a Skill You Can Hone

Every manager's tool box contains a jumble of tools he or she uses every day, some jetsam that never quite matched the job at hand and, if the owner is clever, a little cup over to one side for pieces that are rarely useful for their designated purpose, but are invaluable for other jerry-rigging.

All really successful managers keep "negotiation" in that cup, no matter how much they loathe using it.

Even if the mere idea of negotiating, especially with non-technical people, gives you the willies, there are a handful of techniques you must have to be effective.

You don't have a lot of choice about it, so you might as well get over the fear and the yuck factor of negotiation, and make it easy for yourself and successful for your employer.

In most IT management jobs, negotiation is a set of skills one employs formally a couple of times a month, with a vendor, another department manager or a staffer.

But you can apply the same techniques to all kinds of situations that aren't formal negotiations. Motivating an employee both to work overtime and do a good job with it. Dealing with your kids. Getting a deadline pushed out.

Because negotiation, done properly, is a method for coming to a conclusion that's not only acceptable to both parties, but also one that leaves both open to further dealings together.

This demands skill at calculation and some human skills, though in small portions.

This is one of the rare areas in business skills where there are books you can read and come away sufficiently equipped to do the job adequately.

One of the best books on negotiation is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the four most useful business books of all time. The bad news is, it's out of print. The great news is the author has published it as an e-book and is giving it away for free.

"Negotiation: The Art of Getting What You Want" by Michael Schatzki (Signet Books, 1981) is the classic. It's perfectly aimed, presuming you have a few pieces of skill floating around in you but that while you wish you were good at negotiation you don't love either negotiating or the thought of it. It respects the reader's intelligence while presuming no skill level. To me, that's a perfect foundation for any business book.

Schatzki's book is very tool-oriented, giving clear patterns to follow. It's easy reading and very "left-brained," which will work for a lot of people (I'll recommend another, even easier-to-read book that's still in print for those who prefer to lead with their "right brain.")

Next Page: What do you want? What will you settle for?

What Do You Want

? What Will You Settle For?">

Here's a core principle to use in every negotiation of any kind: Set your settlement range. Here's how to apply it simply.

Think through coldly what the LAR (Least Acceptable Result) you are willing to accept is, the result below which you are actually better off with no agreement.

That's your non-negotiable floor. You never go below that, no matter how you feel. Now build a case for your MSP (Maximum Supportable Position), the biggest take you can justify with facts without bursting into hysterical mad scientist laughter. That's your opening position.

The complexity of negotiation is now simplified, constrained to this floor and ceiling. Schatzki teaches patterns for the ensuing dance and for coming to a win-win conclusion, and he does it incomparably.

If you want to buy a copy, it's now hard to find, though there are a handful of used copies available. If you want an e-book version for free, Schatzki is giving it away.

The e-book version is not a marketing gimmick; it's the opposite. Schatzki told me he had updated the 25-year-old work for some language and small specifics and published it as a favor for young people, to keep them from getting shorn by the unethical strip miners who disguise themselves as businesspeople in this challenging current economy.

The in-print negotiation book that's most worth buying is "Negotiate to Win: The 21 Rules for Successful Negotiating" by Jim Thomas (HarperCollins, 2005).

The writing style is breezy and entertaining without being fluffy—the information is complete and can be acted on.

In fact, it's so well written, it's worth reading even if you're not trying to increase your skill as a negotiator.

Furthermore, Thomas is a hardball negotiator, and I find that an interesting difference. Yet the book's techniques aim towards win-win results. That's not a common combination.

"Negotiate to Win" also has a section on how to conduct 14 specific negotiations, from getting a new car, to wrasslin' with your kids' demands, to haggling with professionals such as lawyers and contractors. If you get a copy, I believe you'll find it useful now and you'll keep it around.

I recommend a final book to my clients for advanced negotiation skills. It feels like an encyclopedia of business negotiation methods.

I wouldn't call it readable, but neither is it academic or turgid. Gerard Neirenberg's "Art of Negotiation" is a valuable resource once you have a foundation of skill in the discipline. It'll give you a garage full of items you can play with when you need to find just the right one for a specific negotiation. It's out of print, but there are some copies available.

I'll come back to negotiation again. It's a vitally important skill, and one which, if you become pretty good at it, will enhance most every other management action you take that involves any human beings. Even your parents.

Jeff Angus is a management consultant and has been working with IT since 1974. He has held IT management positions in user interface design, marketing, operations and testing/analysis. Look for his book, "Management by Baseball: A Pocket Reader." Jeff's columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Baltimore Sun. He can be reached at jeff.angus@comcast.net.