Negotiation is an art, not a science. While most excellent negotiators have a natural ability that allows them to sense what the other person needs, and how they can balance it with what they need, not all of us are blessed. Don’t fret though, there are a few techniques that can help you navigate through the confusing mess that is a successful negotiation. In this post I’ll go over the interest-based negotiation technique developed by Harvard University as part of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Identify what’s important to both parties involved in the negotiation (them and you). What people claim is important to them may not always be what they really need. Quite often clients jump to a solution in their mind and claim that this is their desired objective but as the tech experts, you may realise that their real problem is something else and would require an entirely different solution. Dig past the presented problem to find out why it is important to them.
This is best done by asking lots of questions. Talk about the benefits for them, the problems they are trying to solve, why they think this solution will solve their problem, and what their goals are. At the same time, communicate your goals to them. What are you looking for out of this negotiation?
2. Mutual gain
Invent options for mutual gain. Try to meet as many of the interests as possible out of those identified in the first step by working with them. Brainstorming is an excellent tool to use at this stage. Remember that all suggestions are welcome. Don’t spend time talking about the pros and cons of suggestions and checking their validity.
Mutually come up with criteria for evaluating proposals. The criteria should ensure benefits for both parties. An easy way to do this is to use objective measures like legal needs, market values, and established standards.
You should know your BATNA – Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. This is the decision that will be taken by you if an agreement cannot be achieved and should be discussed and identified prior to the negotiation. Usually, an agreement lower than the BATNA will not be accepted and the BATNA is not disclosed. A bonus would be if you could attempt to figure out the other party’s BATNA. For example, while selling a car, if a dealer has made you an offer for $10,000 then that will be your BATNA while negotiating with a different dealer. However, this is not set in stone and can be changed depending on the situation. What if the other dealer offered you a lower price but gave away some freebies for your new car? Or gave you an better trade-in offer?
Interest based negotiation techniques are not just useful on a large scale while negotiating a new project agreement or a new client offer, but can also be applied by developers for smaller daily tasks. It could come in handy if you are working with a client who could spend hours discussing whether the colour of an error message should be yellow or red (true story), or while arguing with another developer about the best approach to solve a technical problem.
What other techniques do you like to apply in negotiations? Let me know in the comments.