September 25, 2023
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Confidence key to successful negotiations


Judith Richards

By Judith Richards

Why are employees leaving unclaimed value on the bargaining table? How can individuals increase the likelihood of achieving their negotiation goals? Negotiation skills in the workplace play an essential role in facilitating the sales process, resolving conflict and ensuring career success.

Unfortunately, the majority of employees have not been exposed to formalized negotiation and conflict management training.

The last eight years I have been teaching a negotiation and conflict management class created for the California Lutheran University MBA program. The course includes video-recorded negotiation simulations performed during class and utilized during the debrief session. Additionally, role-plays are conducted telephonically, electronically and face-to-face during class with student peers. The exercises include dyads plus team negotiations. I have been surprised by how seriously the participants take the exercises.

Surveys of hundreds of students administered during the first and last sessions of the class have shown some fundamental issues. My co-author, Veronica Guerrero, and I found that there are individuals who are collaborative to an extreme. They excel at developing relationships. However, they can be taken advantage of because they fail to engage in the ask. For example, they may not request a raise out of fear that the relationship may be damaged.

According to our research, there were gender differences. For instance, women overall valued the relationship more than the outcome. Conversely, a higher percentage of men indicated that the outcome was of primary importance over the relationship. During simulations, some of the male students were overly competitive and too focused on their own outcome versus achieving a win-win resolution. Consequently, the relationship may have been damaged to the extent that they were sometimes unable to close the deal or meet objectives. There was also a trend with some of these students failing to agree to reciprocal concessions.

Clearly, the lesson learned is that negotiators need to balance the relationship and concessions with achieving the targeted outcome.

Generally, negotiations involve a process of creating and claiming value. One class role-play involves a job offer. In order for one to be offered their dream career, first the candidate should create value, which is collaborative and involves selling yourself.  Additionally, the prospective employee needs to be working on alternatives to increase negotiation power. This would involve seeking other career opportunities or working on a promotion for a current job. Strong alternatives can increase one’s power and likelihood of achieving targeted goals. The candidate should professionally leverage other options.  A competitive strategy of claiming value could be utilized, which might involve requesting a higher salary, sign-on bonus, incentive compensation or relocation package.  Ideally, both the employee and employer should make appropriate concessions to ultimately reach an integrative, win-win agreement.

After taking the negotiation and conflict management course, participants overall tended to be more confidant, competitive and collaborative in future negotiations. This is a significant finding since students indicated they would be more inclined to create and claim value and less likely to leave unclaimed value on the bargaining table.

Additionally, negotiators should engage in adequate preparation, pursue formalized training, practice through role-play exercises, improve persuasion skills, employ emotional intelligence and manage the balance between protecting the relationship and achieving targeted outcomes.

Skilled negotiators can become organizational superstars through diplomacy by finding creative solutions and common ground while bridging differences.

• Judith Richards is a lecturer and MBA adviser in the California Lutheran University School of Management.