Negotiate When You're Not Eye to Eye- Is It Even Possible?

Last Updated Sep 3, 2010 10:06 AM EDT

Most people think of negotiation skills as applying to sales and money -- but as managers we have to negotiate every day. Can you give me more time on this project? How many people will you let me use? I'm sorry, the budget is WHAT? It was never easy, but now that you often aren't in the same room as the person you're working with, what chance do you have?

Actually, a pretty good shot if you know how to negotiate, a skill most people, particularly in North America never really learned. According to George Lucas and Don Hutson, the authors of "The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements", it's not too late. Even negotiaphobes like me can learn to bargain with the best.


With so many organizations working remotely and seldom getting face-to-face what are the challenges when negotiating for resources?
The biggest challenge in distance negotiations is giving up the non-verbal cues that you get in face-to-face negotiations. Well over 60% of the information communicated in encounters is nonverbal. This includes body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. You 're also impacted in your ability to use silence, which is often a negotiator's strong tool, as effectively. Silence will often cause a person to talk; frequently sharing information or making concessions. Silence on the phone, particularly a cell phone, frequently leads you to wonder if the person is still connected to you. You also don't know what the person is writing down, or if they're aking any notes at all.

This is a very good indication of issues that are important to the other side. All of these make probing skills much more important. A good rule of thumb is to probe three to five times off of every major question. How do you feel about that? What else can you tell me about that process? What could get in the way of success in that venture? With distance negotiations, we recommend leaning toward the five probes rather than the three. Far too many negotiators never probe at all.

How can you negotiate for things like scarce resources across divisions when you're remote?
It all comes down to making a business case for the resources you need. This case is a negotiation process, and like all negotiations preparation is the key. The best way to build such a case is to tie your activities to the core strategies of your organization and the impact they will have on the company's KPIs (key performance indicators). If your company is publicly traded, find out any information you can about the bonus basis for top management. We worked with one person who discovered that the COO got a $100,000 bonus for every 1% increase in the organization's return on shareholders' equity (ROSE). That revelations was the combination to the vault. From that point on every project this person worked on was linked directly or indirectly to ROSE.

You simply can't collaborate with someone unless you know how they are evaluated and compensated. Others may try begging and pleading, while some will go to historical allocations and bring up irrelevant words like "fairness." None of these tactics are very effective in our brave new business world.

What are the negotiation skills managers need to learn in this new remote and virtual environment?
First is the ability to effectively use the four viable strategies of avoidance, accommodation, competition and collaboration proficiently. This includes knowing when to use each one. It also includes understanding the limitations of compromise and knowing when and how to effectively use this tactic.

The second skill that should be given a top priority is presentation skills; including effective story telling. We are currently working on an e-book that provides valuable insights on making more effective presentations. This includes face-to-face and long distance presentations using teleconferencing tools such as Skype. T

he third skill goes back to the response to the second question above, and that is the need to advance one's financial analysis skills. Business is the one sport where those keeping score can actually end up making more money than the players. The ability to free up capital, or identify relatively inexpensive sources of funds, can get someone a key to the executive wash room in 2010, and for years to come.

Click here to hear a full interview with Dr. George Lucas on the Cranky Middle Manager Show

Photo by flickr user Dog Lover 2009 CC 2.0