Last week I was lucky enough to take part in an all-day workshop with WPP procurement guru Tom Kinnaird.

The subject – how to negotiate successfully.

It’s not a skill set the majority of us try to consciously develop. And shamefully, despite having spent the bulk of my career to date in a media agency, the only times I’ve really had to test my negotiation mettle, have been my personal salary reviews. Where most of us tend to rely on innate ability and instinct – almost certainly to our detriment.

After a day in Tom’s company, you start to see the world very differently.

In particular, there were three compelling pointers I took home with me this week.

The first is “Why?”

Most of the time in a negotiation we spend our time not listening. Instead we think about what we’re going to say next. We mentally rack up our next argument point. We don’t ask questions – we just talk. Yet asking “why?” helps us. It helps us to not only show respect, and understand the other person’s perspective, but also gives us insight into what aspects of the negotiation are up for grabs. In any negotiation, there’s a knowledge gap. We know what we want, but we don’t know what is driving the other person and how much they are willing to give us. Asking “why” gives us important clues.

The second magic word is “No”

If we never say No outright, people assume that whatever is being discussed is still on the table. Sometimes, a “No” is the most productive part of the negotiation. It marks out what is definitely unacceptable, so that both parties can get on with talking about a solution which will work. Agencies, who are so often terrified of refusing their clients even the most ridiculous request – could do worse than learning the power of the positive No.

The third phrase is “What if…?”

Usually we approach a negotiation with one or possibly two desired scenarios in our head. We’ll have all the points in our head to help support our argument for that proposal.  Then the negotiation takes a sharp turn, into territory we hadn’t even considered. And we find ourselves backed into a corner, where our original solution is no longer a runner. It’s hard to think of alternatives on the spot and under pressure. Which is why we need to consider and package as many potential pathways as we can think of, in case the negotiation doesn’t go the way we had expected.

Which it definitely will not.  When your heart starts beating and emotion takes over, you can’t rely on your cool calm logical head. That’s why, at the heart of all successful negotiations, is preparation.

And the rest of Tom Kinnaird’s secret tips 🙂

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