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5 Tips for Navigating Workplace Negotiations

So much about our daily lives is a negotiation. We negotiate with our children, “eat two bites of broccoli and you can have dessert”— or we negotiate with our partners, “I’ll watch your sci-fi movie tonight but tomorrow, it’s action thriller.” Those interactions often come easy to us, since we’re interacting with people we know well and there is little risk involved. But negotiations in the workplace can feel much more intimidating, especially if we’re not used to dealing with conflict or simply not experienced in the art of negotiation.

In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time sharpening my negotiation skills — and my job requires negotiation multiple times a day. Whether I’m dealing with external vendors, taxing authorities or co-workers, there are negotiation opportunities around every corner. And whether you realize it or not, your job probably relies on negotiations too – at least some of the time. When I think about what’s important in successful negotiations, operating with integrity and according to the law is always the first priority. With that foundation in mind, here are five tips for navigating workplace negotiations for the best possible outcomes.

  1. Listen carefully
    We all come to negotiations wanting to be heard. We have a particular point of view that we want to get across and a goal we wish to accomplish. But when you walk into any negotiation, one of the most crucial things you can do is simply listen. By avoiding the urge to blurt out everything you wish to gain and taking a step back to hear the other party’s perspective, you’re taking the first step to finding common ground. In some negotiations, there may not be much common ground at all — but you will never fully understand where you stand in the negotiation process unless you have a clear picture of what the other party is trying to achieve or gain.

  2. Communicate clearly
    Even if you are the greatest listener of all time, being successful in negotiation requires being heard. So when it’s your turn to talk, it is important that you are prepared to make your points in the most clear and succinct way possible. Negotiation is all about leverage, so you need to do your homework and have a clear understanding of the areas in which you have leverage compared to your counterpart, and vice versa. And then, prepare your talking points to both support your greatest levers and defend your position in the areas where you may come up short.

  3. Focus on solving the problem
    It is important to remember that, in a negotiation, both parties come to the table with the end goal of solving a problem or resolving a conflict. You’re not going to always agree with your counterparty – and you may not even be able to “agree to disagree.” But in the end of any successful negotiation, victory is finding a solution to a problem or resolving a business decision once and for all.

  4. Value the relationship
    Whether you’re involved in a negotiation with a vendor, a partner, a co-worker or a potential client, the relationships we develop in business are usually not one-time events. And although sometimes negotiation meetings can get a little tense, professionalism and mutual respect go a long way in making sure both parties walk away from the table feeling positive about the interaction — even if they’re not ecstatic about the end result. It’s taking the old adage to “never burn a bridge” one step further. If you approach the negotiation with the right mindset and attitude, once the dust settles, you may find your relationship is even stronger than it was before.

  5. Understand the give and take
    While it’s normal to want to “win” at negotiation, it’s critical to understand that negotiation is less about winning and losing and more about give and take. Both parties will typically hold leverage in one or more areas, and in the end, a “winning” result often means you’ve gotten 60% of what you wanted and the other party got 40%. It’s rarely that one party winds up with 100% of what they walked into the negotiation hoping to achieve. (One-hundred percent is reserved for quick draws, which thankfully don’t happen in today’s board rooms.)


Join in the conversation
To learn more and join the conversation about negotiating in our diverse world and workplaces, join me during the 15th Annual Diversity & Leadership Conference at the “Essential Negotiation Skills” panel discussion on Friday, April 12 at 10am, Concurrent Session II.


About the Author

Sonia Hollies is Vice President and Chief Tax Officer for Conduent. In her role, she leads the global tax function, with responsibility for all aspects of federal, state, local and international income and indirect taxes, as well as tax planning, provision, policy, compliance and controversy. She partners with business leaders on planning activities, acquisitions, dispositions and other transactions to minimize tax cost and manage risk. Sonia is also pursuing a Doctorate in Business Administration and has served as an Adjunct Professor for twenty years at various institutions.