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Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Negotiations

To get started…

Refresh your memory on the various barriers to communication mentioned in your textbook on pages 338-340 to see why it is important to find effective methods of communication and how managers can overcome barriers to communication.  Check out how managers should communicate when negotiating on pages 347-349.  Then read the negotiations advice given by Richard Mullender, a former hostage negotiator of the UK police force.

So, to summarise…

Plenty of movies and TV shows feature hostage negotiations, giving us some idea of what the hostage negotiator job entails.  The purpose of the entertainment industry, however, is exactly that – to entertain.  Richard Mullender gives an insight into how things are done in reality. 

Mullender places a strong emphasis on all three principles of addressing barriers to effective communication: active listening, feedback, and simplified language.  His number one goal is to understand the other party.  This is done by interpreting back to the speaker how you understood what they said, using the words “I feel as if….” or “it seems to me that …”  When you start that way, you do not change the subject (which leaves the speaker in control of the conversation), you communicate back to them what came across to you, and you open it up for their feedback.  If you are correct, says Mullender, they will agree with you and expand, and if you are wrong, they will correct you and expand.  In both cases, you will get a better understanding of them.

Mullender also gives advice on the physical seating arrangements and body language during negotiations: not face-to-face, but on a slight angle and breaking eye contact every five minutes.  Mullender explains that this reduces the levels of intimidation while communicating an appropriate level of interest. 

In addition to what to do during negotiations, there’s some advice on how to prepare for negotiations.  Three points of advice from a Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra concern this preparation, particularly for hard negotiations.  When you know this is not going to be easy to solve because the differences are not small or the counterpart is hard to convince.  The key is not being tough or aggressive suggests Malhotra.  The first step is to identify the rules, players, and parameters.  It is not a weakness to ask all these questions is advance: who is responsible for making the final decision?  Are they participating in the negotiation?  What about the timeline and benchmarks?  Try to get an accurate assessment of where the other side is truly constrained and where there's room to move.

The second point is to call it what it is – acknowledge the tension and suggest a break when it gets unbearable.  The final point is about self-care.  Basically, it raises the importance of staying balanced and unaffected by whatever unsettling technique of the opposite side.

Some people think that women should negotiate differently to men.  When negotiating for a raise, women are advised to not appear weak, be prepared to compromise for other forms of benefits (like time off), be aware of the company’s circumstances and appear positive.  Would men be given the same advice?  Perhaps.  And perhaps this sort of advice, given to women to maintain a meek position in their workplace, reinforces the gender pay gap and knowing what the colleagues earn can help with closing it.

Some issues to notice and pay particular attention to here are…

  • Barriers to communication
  • Ways to overcome barriers to effective communication
  • Negotiations

Consider the following questions for discussion…

  1. What barriers to communication would disrupt good outcomes in negotiations?  How would you overcome them?  Why?
  2. If you were to engage in negotiations with your manager about raising your salary, how would you prepare for it?    
  3. Do you think women and men should negotiate differently?  Why or why not?