Perspectives from ISB

“For professionals (and parents of young children), the importance of negotiation skills cannot be overstated. Whether it is negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract, compensation with a potential employer, or even appropriate television time with one’s children, strong acumen in this area is very beneficial”, feels Kunal Bhatia, Senior Global Account Director for Johnson and Johnson Medical in Australia.

Having had the opportunity to work in different countries, culture and roles, Bhatia has realised that the need to be a skilled negotiator is agnostic of culture, industry, profession and job level. While, cultural nuances are important and, when taken into consideration, can promote smoother and less contentious negotiations, there are some common principles that he believes are universal.

In this article, he shares his top-five negotiation tactics based on his learnings from text and experience. These five principals seem quite counter-intuitive at first. However, putting them into practice has served him well both at work and at home.

  1. Make the First Offer – There is a widespread belief that it is wise and strategic to let the other person make the first offer. However, there is virtually no research that supports this claim. Conversely, research shows a strong and powerful positive effect of making the first offer. Admittedly, it does take courage to make an offer, especially in situations that are ambiguous or when you are in a low-power position.First offers have a strong anchoring effect; they exert a strong pull throughout the rest of the negotiation. Even when people know that a particular anchor should not influence their judgments, they are often incapable of resisting its influence. As a result, they insufficiently adjust their valuations away from the anchor.
  1. Focus on Differences – Conventional wisdom says that we negotiate to overcome the differences that divide us. So we look for win-win agreements by searching for common ground. Common ground is generally a good thing, yet some of the most overlooked sources of value arise from “differences” among the parties.Differences of interest or priority or hierarchy-of-needs can open the door to unbundling different elements in negotiation and give each party what it values the most, possibly at the least cost to the other.
  1. Zoom-in on the “Interests” – Don’t just negotiate the “Issues” – Three elements are at play in a negotiation, 1. Issues – on the table for explicit agreement, 2. Positions – where the parties stand on the issues and 3. Interests – each party’s underlying concerns.Great negotiators understand that the dance of opposing “positions” is only the surface game and they focus on probing behind the “positions” for the full set of “interests” at stake. Before any negotiation begins, understand the interests and positions of the other side relative to your own interests and positions.
  1. Listen – There’s a widely held assumption in the business world that negotiation is mostly about talking and that the best negotiators are the best conversationalists. That view overlooks perhaps the most crucial aspect of the negotiation process: Listening. In the words of ’de Callières, “one of the most necessary qualities in a good negotiator is to be an apt listener.” Your “cameras” should be focused on (1) the words and actions of the other side, (2) your own words and actions, and (3) the effect of your words and actions on the other side.
  1. Help them Sell – The person on the other side of the table might agree that your offer is reasonable, but they will still reject it if they can’t sell it to others in their organisation. Your job as a negotiator is not simply to convince the person you’re negotiating with but to help them be an effective ambassador for you when they are speaking to their boss, their board, their partners, or others who have a say in what happens. Keep an eye on all of the people who can influence the negotiation on their side and help craft a narrative that will allow them to get the buy-in they need.

These are some key principals that have personally helped Bhatia negotiate large and complex contracts at work as well as with his young children at home: “One bonus tip he from personal experience is that to be a good negotiator you must practice patience. Patience is difficult! Especially when you have a deal that is constrained by a time limit imposed by a leader or a contract expiry. If you’re impatient or time-constrained and a deal isn’t moving fast enough, in order to get it over the line, you may give concessions that are unnecessary. Additionally, when you give something away easily and quickly, the other side is less satisfied because it appears to be a concession of low value. Being patient, on the other hand, encourages flexibility and provides time for the other side to accept otherwise tough choices.”

Kunal Bhatia’s reference list for coming up with his Top-Five negotiation tips are:

  • Galinsky 2004 ‘Should you make the first offer’
  • Sebenius 2001 ‘6 Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators’
  • Malhotra 2006 ‘5 Reasons Good Deals Get Rejected’
  • Bazerman 2007 Investigative Negotiation

– Kunal Bhatia, PGP Co 2014, Senior Global Account Director, Johnson and Johnson Medical, Australia

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