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How to negotiate

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Quite often you may need to resolve situations where what you want conflicts with what someone else wants, and you have no direct authority over that person. For this you need effective negotiation skills. Hopefully this recipe will help.

Serves – most nonprofit staff

Preparation – know what your goal is; obtain details on the subject, the person you want to negotiate with, and the organisation they work for

Time taken – approximately 2-3 weeks

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  • Style of approach
  • Honesty and openness
  • Control
  • Preparation
  • Goals
  • Trades
  • Alternatives
  • Relationships
  • Expected outcomes
  • The consequences
  • Power
  • Possible solution
  • Process
  • Compensation
  • “Gamesmanship”


1. First, prepare a style of approach.  This will depend on your circumstances.  Where you do not expect to deal with people ever again and you do not need their goodwill, then it may be appropriate to “play hardball”, seeking to win a negotiation while the other person loses out. Many people go through this when they buy or sell a house, or reach a settlement figure for compensation.  Such an approach is not usually much good for resolving disputes with people with whom you have an ongoing relationship: in such cases it’s usually unwise to play hardball, use “gamesmanship” or manipulation during a negotiation as it can undermine trust and damage teamwork as it disadvantages the other person.  It may also lead to reprisals later.  While a manipulative person may not get caught out if negotiation is infrequent, this is not the case when people work together on a regular basis.

2. You will usually need to bring in honesty and openness.  If emotions risk running high prepare to keep them under control, perhaps discuss them as if they belong to someone else.  Give the other side the opportunity discuss how they feel as well.  If emotion is not discussed openly where it needs to be, then any agreement reached may be unsatisfactory and short lived.

3. Depending on the scale of the negotiation, preparation is likely to be appropriate.  For small disagreements, excessive preparation can be counter-productive because it takes time that is better used elsewhere.  It can also be seen as manipulative because, just as it strengthens your position, it can weaken the other person’s.  However, if you need to resolve a major disagreement, then make sure you prepare thoroughly.  Similarly, where there is a great deal at stake in a negotiation, then it may be appropriate to prepare in detail and legitimate “gamesmanship” to gain advantage.  Anyone who has been involved with large sales negotiations will be familiar with this.

4. In your own mind, be clear about:

  • Your goals: what do you want to get out of the negotiation? What do you think the other person wants?
  • Your Trades: what do you and the other person have that you can trade? What do you each have that the other wants? What are you each comfortable giving away?
  • Your alternatives: if you don’t reach agreement with the other person, what alternatives do you have? Are these good or bad? How much does it matter if you do not reach agreement? Does failure to reach an agreement cut you out of future opportunities? And what alternatives might the other person have?
  • Relationships: what is the history of the relationship? Could or should this history impact the negotiation? Will there be any hidden issues that may influence the negotiation? How will you handle these?
  • Expected outcomes: what outcome will people be expecting from this negotiation? What has the outcome been in the past, and what precedents have been set?
  • The consequences: what are the consequences for you of winning or losing this negotiation? What are the consequences for the other person?
  • Power: who has what power in the relationship? Who controls resources? Who stands to lose the most if agreement isn’t reached? What power does the other person have to deliver what you hope for?
  • Possible solutions: based on all of the considerations, what possible compromises might there be?

5. Once you have addressed these points, begin the process of negotiation. This is a careful exploration of your position and the other person’s position, with the goal of finding a mutually acceptable compromise that gives you both as much of what you want as possible. People’s positions are rarely as fundamentally opposed as they may initially appear – the other person may have very different goals from the ones you expect!

In an ideal situation, you will find that the other person wants what you are prepared to trade, and that you are prepared to give what the other person wants.

If this is not the case and one person must give way, then it is fair for this person to try to negotiate some form of compensation for doing so – the scale of this compensation will often depend on the many of the factors mentioned above. Ultimately, both sides should feel comfortable with the final solution if the agreement is to be considered win-win.

Only consider win-lose negotiation if you don’t need to have an ongoing relationship with the other party as, having lost, they are unlikely to want to work with you again.  Equally, you should expect that if they need to fulfill some part of a deal in which you have “won,” they may be uncooperative and legalistic about the way they do this.