Suzy Sanders explains four steps you can take to ensure a successful negotiation
As Assistants, we are often faced with negotiations, whether we recognise it or not. Strengthening your negotiation skills will not only boost your confidence, but it will also help you become more effective in your role and ultimately deliver more value to your organisation.
However, these types of conversations can sometimes make even the most well-seasoned and professional Assistant nervous or uncomfortable. For example, when it comes to negotiating rates with suppliers on behalf of your executive or negotiating with your executive or human resources department for a salary increase, it’s common, understandable and easy for a little anxiety to creep in.
Negotiation simply means to discuss something with the mutual aim of reaching an agreement.
Here are some of the common mistakes that are made when negotiating:
1. Focusing purely on cost or price
You must also consider the true value or experience, the bigger picture or whole package.
2. Not listening actively or attentively
Listening is important when discussing anything, whether it be a negotiation or not. If either party in a negotiation doesn’t conduct themselves in an open and respectful manner, allowing for all points from all angles to be expressed and heard, it’s likely to cause problems.
3. Not formalising the agreement correctly
Sometimes legal contracts or terms will need to be reviewed, signed and agreed to. In other circumstances, a simple follow-up email will do. Not understanding how to record an outcome or formalise a negotiation could lead to costly and complex issues in the future.
In my view, the best way to learn and grow is to do.The more you put something off, the bigger the anxieties become and the more likely it is to erode your confidence over time.
Practise makes progress!
Four steps to negotiating successfully and with confidence
Here are my four steps to successful negotiations, avoiding those common mistakes:
1. Know the desired outcome
Understand why you are negotiating! Step one is to understand the desired outcome of the negotiation and to recognise that you hold some power in the conversations. Be sure that you have clarity on the desired outcome before you have any conversations.
Let’s work with an example of being tasked with finding and booking a suitable venue for an upcoming team meeting. You need to find a suitable location on a fixed date within a certain budget.
Sure, there’s added complexity when you’re researching and negotiating on behalf of others, but this can always be used to your advantage. More on that later.
Firstly, establish the budget and what the exact requirements are. By asking the right questions at the earliest opportunity, you will be crystal clear (and therefore more confident) in what the expectations are and what your company needs.
Let’s refer to that first common mistake and not focus exclusively on price. It could be that one venue option is over budget, but it’s the only one with free parking for the delegates. In this example, let’s say there are 100 delegates who will all need a parking space. Whilst the venue cost is higher, in looking at the bigger picture, the whole package, the overall cost to the company could be far less than booking a venue whereby 100 delegates all need to pay to park for the day, which could well be a false economy.
2. Do your homework
The second and arguably the most important step is to be well prepared.
Researching your options is critical. It will not only help you feel more prepared, but it will also reduce the risk of wasted time further down the line – both your time and the time of your potential suppliers. From your research, draw up a shortlist before you speak to anyone. Well-researched options will also help boost your credibility and authority when it comes down to having those conversations too.
Prepare yourself well before any conversations take place; it helps level the playing field. You’ll already have a good understanding of whether this company can meet your needs before you pick up the phone. I say ‘phone’ as in my experience that is the most efficient and effective way to negotiate. Yes, email may feel easier and ‘safer’, but there are so many elements and benefits to having a conversation that are easily lost in typing.
3. Lean on your professional network
Ask for personal recommendations. This can be a huge time-saver, but it also makes negotiating easier for you, as you’ve already got a ‘foot in the door’ – a connection through a colleague. In addition, if that supplier knows you’ve been recommended by one of their clients, they are far more likely to feel a bit of pressure to deliver the best rates and experience for you.
4. Have the conversation
When you have done your homework, all that’s left to do is to clearly communicate your needs and expectations.
Then it’s a simple question of whether the potential supplier can meet them.
In our example, it’s important to remember that the potential venue will want to help you; they will want your business, meaning that they are already engaged and have an active interest in your needs.
Lean in to your natural abilities to build rapport
Ask questions, engage in a little ‘small talk’, take some time to get to know the person you’re negotiating with a little more deeply and be certain to listen to them. This will help you both feel at ease. It’s likely that under the surface, the person you’re negotiating with feels a little anxious too! It’s important to recognise that negotiation is a two-way street.
Once you’ve had those conversations, you can make a decision. Be sure to communicate your intentions as well as your expectations. Let that person know the process you’re in and manage their expectations in terms of when a decision will be made. You don’t have to agree to anything straight away. Any arrangement will allow for a little thinking time and space.
For example: ‘Thank you so much. I have three other venues to speak to today. So, I will be in touch later in the week once I’ve reviewed all our options’. This is a respectful way to ‘close’ the conversation. It also reduces any potential pressure being applied on the call or unnecessary time being wasted in any eager follow-ups.
Give feedback and follow up
It seems so obvious to me, but I am continually amazed by how short-sighted some people can be in their day-to-day conversations. Be sure to give feedback to and thank those people you’ve spoken to regardless of whether they can meet your needs on this occasion. You never know how that person might be able to help you in the future. That sales executive at the astronomically expensive venue could easily become a client of your company, or perhaps the venue’s CEO is looking for a high calibre Assistant – your potential next dream role!
Let’s also not forget that last common mistake, not formalising the negotiation correctly once an agreement has been made. If you are supplied with terms and conditions or a contract of any description, be sure to review it and take the necessary steps to understand it – seeking professional advice if necessary. It’s commonly joked about that no one ever reads terms and conditions, but that doesn’t make it OK or sensible. They are there for a reason, so take the time to understand what they mean to you and your organisation before anyone signs or agrees to them.
I hope my four steps to negotiating successfully and with confidence have been helpful reminders for you. Now is the perfect time for a little reflection. What are your perceptions and experiences of negotiation? What does successful negotiation look like to you? What is it specifically that makes you feel nervous or unsure? Perhaps there’s someone you admire who always seems to confidently get results when negotiating. What behaviours and beliefs do they posses that you can aspire to emulate in your own future conversations?
Remember, practise makes progress.