4 Ways to Strengthen Your Negotiating Skills

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Negotiating Skills

“Unless you wake up in the morning with a script next to your bed and on that script is everything you’ll say and do and everything those with whom you will interact will say and do, you’re doing improv(isation).” – Izzy Gesell*

Hold that thought.

Because right now, December, it’s that most awful time of the year (sorry Mr. Pola and Mr. Wyle—you did it better), when groups and hotels, in particular, are champing at the bit to get year-end contracts signed.

Sadly, when negotiations are rushed—whether month or quarter-end or in particular, year-end—they are negatively impacted and we end up with a product (contract) that may or may not reflect the intentions and understanding of the parties to the contract(s). Ideal negotiations involve patient listening and responding that moves the discussion forward in a productive fashion.

Added to the complications of rushed negotiations are the phrases “It’s our policy” (or “It’s not our policy”), “No one’s ever asked us/wanted that,” “I have to have that or we can't sign,” “You’ll have to talk with legal or procurement or revenue management [you know, the Great and Powerful Oz!] and we don’t have time” and “If you don’t sign by (date), you’ll lose the whole deal.”

It’s as if everyone is scripted to say what they are told to say—the “Stepford Negotiations” perhaps we can call them!—and we do in fact revert to script versus listening and responding to what is being said. And as I learned from Izzy Gesell, none of us wake up with a script for who will say what and when.

*Gesell’s quote is paraphrased at the start of this blog.

I had one of those awful negotiations this past spring—one of the most miserable experiences ever … and in a 40+ year career, that’s saying something!

Sadly, because of the antagonistic attitude of the vendor parties (not my client but those with whom I was negotiating on their behalf), all my improvisation training and knowledge went out the door! Stress, because of critical issues and deadlines, can get the better of even the most experienced of planners.

This is the first December in years, kinehora, when I’m not faced with contract deadlines (Thank you, dear clients!). There are of course, other deadlines and the usual year-end workload when everyone else seems to be mentally or physically away (out of the office messages abound!), but no contracts … so far!

For many of you, the deadlines loom and it’s not really Dec. 31, is it? It’s more likely Dec. 20 before everyone leaves on vacation. Take a deep breath and read on. This blog can help you now and for future negotiations.

In numerous discussions on social media and elsewhere with colleagues, and in training I’ve conducted for classes in the industry and for a risk and contracts class for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the issues of how best and what to negotiate are always part of the conversation. How much can we get? What do we ask for? What are the hidden charges? (For this one, if you haven’t, tune in to the free webinar that Kelly Franklin Bagnall, Esq., and I presented for Meetings Today in October 2017).

What’s covered in force majeure protection? If concessions are first on our list of needs, are we getting enough? And on and on.

[If you are interested in receiving a checklist of items I think are critical to consider during negotiations or to include in a contract, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and put “Negotiations and Contract Checklist” in the subject line. I’ll send you the checklist I use to develop contracts and for teaching others.]

What is usually taught in our industry about negotiations is to prioritize what is needed including the meeting content and delivery needs for the group and to present the group’s needs in an RFP, and for the vendor or facility to provide a proposal (often called a contract and, in my opinion, too often signed as is with no negotiation or counter-offer).

The how of doing so—negotiating—is written about in many books and online articles. For me, the best training I ever received was when I took my first improvisation class after, a few years prior, a dear friend (Librettist James Racheff) tried to teach me improv saying it was a tool that the business world needed. I confess to being too self-conscious to let go and really learn. But the improv bug had bitten. When another opportunity arose, I grabbed it and signed up for two improv classes at the International Association of Facilitators conference. I told everyone I’d signed up so that I wouldn’t back out!

I was still convinced that improvisation was “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or Second City—as many still do—and I sure didn’t want to be on a stage no matter what my great high school speech teacher, Jim Payne, thought!

Facilitation and improv classes have taught me numerous lessons.

The two most important are to say:

  • “Tell me more,” a classic facilitation phrase that moves a conversation forward while getting the information needed. 
  • “Yes, and…” versus “Yes, but…” Izzy Gesell and Bob Korin detail more about these in the Friday With Joan sidebar. “Yes, and…” carries the conversation forward and, in negotiations, acknowledges one’s own needs and wants while learning of and acknowledging the needs and wants of the person with whom you are negotiating.

When I think about successful negotiations, I realize how much the parties to the negotiations use improv to make them successful. And I know that the least successful of negotiations are the foot-stomping, my-way-or-the-highway ones where there is no give and take, all “Yes, but…” versus “Yes, and…”

Here then are four specific ways—and a bonus precursor—to better, more successful quality negotiations and ultimately, contracts:

  1. Determine what you need, want and must have and detail those in writing in an RFP.
  2. Ask those with whom you are negotiating for their needs, wants and must-haves.
  3. Acknowledge each other’s needs, wants and must-haves, whether it’s wording (not just because “legal said so” or “we’ve always done it that way”; more because it makes sense in the context of the business), terms and conditions (specific numbers and dates versus percentages and days out), and all the other specifics that the parties discuss and agree to.
  4. Move it all forward with “Yes, and…” and acknowledge at the start of the negotiations that those with whom you are working will help to keep the language in use.

Bonus Advice: take improvisation classes and practice the tools you learn. They work in all relationships and business dealings. And they allow you to laugh at yourself when you say something unintended so perhaps that’s a double bonus.

Editors' Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Click here to view additional content in the 12.01.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.‚Äč

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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