Negotiation, How to Start?

This curated column is authored by Atiek Puspa Fadhilah, Renewable Energy Advisor, GIC

Coming from engineering major with less training of communication skill had given me a hard time during my past 5-years post as an adviser for government. Turns out, in most cases, communication and negotiation skills play a GIANT role than my technical background. I am not undermining technical skill over social, but in my case, technical skill alone will make my ideas stay dormant. Thus I decided to join the training, the negotiation skill training for successful cooperation. I will share my takes on this 3-days full training into a blog post. Of course if will not be sufficient, thus I will include further reading at the end of this writing.

The trainer was Elmar Erberhardt, he is a senior trainer which has a lot of experiences in Afghanistan. I think that is an interesting place for a resume. He based his training on “Getting to Yes” book. Based on the review, it is a prominent literature for negotiation skill both for business and development cooperation. He was doing it in German style, a lot of meta-plan, cards, role-play, and proper explanation as well, in each topic he added more literature for further reading.

Understanding conflict

First, in negotiation, we need to understand the levels of conflict and corresponding methods which have been classified into 9 Stages of Conflict Escalation by Friedrich Glasl

In the stages 1–3, the conflict still revolves around factual debate with more chances to have a win-win situation and be tackled by moderation. Meanwhile in stages 4–9, personal relations has been involved, which requires mediation then act of power when the conflict has reached a lose-lose situation. By understanding these stages, negotiator can examine situation and act accordingly.

Conflict with style

We also need to know our style in a conflict, which is based on Thomas-Kilmann model. This is to gauge our tendency in responding to conflict. You can browse for the Thomas-Kilmann test, or TKI as its abbreviation.

None of us can be characterized as having a single style of dealing with conflict. But certain people use some modes better than others and, therefore, tend to rely on those modes more heavily than others — whether because of temperament or practice.

Ok, what is negotiation by the way?

Negotiation, by definition, is a basic means of getting what you want from others. It is back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shred and others that are opposed. In a negotiation, there are 4 types of arguments that are frequently used, which are rational, tactical, morale, and plausible.

TED Talk with William Ury : The walk from “No” to “Yes”

Being success in a negotiation means that :

  • satisfactory outcome is reached that works for all parties with established long term commitment;
  • goal is achieved efficiently with no wasted time and all issues and concerns are addressed
  • the process is amicably ended that enhancing relationship and makes future dealings become easier

The principled negotiation

When conducting a negotiation, there are 4 basic points to be considered upon in the Principled Negotiation:

  • People ; Separate people from problem
  • Interest ; Focus on interests, not by positions
  • Options ; Generate a variety of possibilities for mutual gain before making any decision (prezi: Invent options)
  • Criteria ; Insist that the result will be based on objective criteria or standard (prezi: Objective criteria)

Conducting a negotiation

There are 5 stages of negotiation which comprise of

  1. Preparation and planning ; clarify what you want and why? Establish a BATNA (Best Alternative of Negotiated Agreement); develop a frame/skeleton; prepare negotiation checklist
  2. Define ground rules
  3. Clarify and justify your case
  4. Bargaining and problem-solving
  5. Closure and implementation

Those are the theories and tools to handle a negotiation, but in practice, we should be prepared for different cases. Thus improvisations are crucial, here are examples on situations that we will face in a negotiation and how to gauge and respond to it.

Wait, I am not ready!

What if they are more powerful?

What if they won’t play?

What if they use dirty tricks?

Those concerns are discussed in the book, and many sources have been providing about these issues. I won’t write it here since it will make this post very long, I’d rather put further learning materials at the end of this post.

[Prezi] 10 questions to getting to yes


What makes the training more interesting were the discussion on culture, linguistics, and body language aspects and how those affect our negotiation process, especially in multi-cultural setup. There were debates in the class over how accurate is the culture categorisation and is it still relevant now? I personally use this information as basic information in archives, thus if anything happens, I will open each archive to develop more understanding toward others and strategise my moves.

In discussions on cultural background, beware of stereotyping. Each human has his/her “backpack” consists of culture, personal character, and situation. These three elements influence human respond to a condition, not just culture. By knowing that, we could examine their reaction. Is it because of his/her culture? or his/her personal characteristic? or is it a reaction over a particular situation? Then, we can plan our proper respond to it to make a successful negotiation. see Getting Yes Across Cultures

There are three things that influence our communication with others, which are cultural dimensions, body language, and linguistic aspects. Body language consists of non-verbal and para-verbal. There are a lot of literature explaining about body language meaning, such as Desmond Morris on The Meaning of Human Gestures or Amy Cuddy TED Talk .

See video on Gestures, meanings, and cultures

Meanwhile linguistic aspects comprises of organisation of speech, social meaning, false friends (when a word has another meaning in another language), taboos, and registers. Register means that the social categorise how do we have to talk in a specific setting.

Culture comprises of three pillars, religions, histories, and language. The culture lessons was based on a book titled The Culture Map by Erin Meyer (a professor in INSEAD). She develop a tool that helps people to understand the differences in cultures and how it affects people in doing business : Comparing management cultures

So, are you ready to negotiate?

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