Five Fundamental Skills for Effective Negotiation: Communication

Well, over the last four weeks, we’ve been building up to this moment, the fifth fundamental skill. And, like the others, it’s a no-brainer: Communication. You MUST be able to effectively communicate with both your team and your opponent. Sounds easy, of course – they all do. What’s so special about communication?

Remember that communication consists of three separate actions. First is message formulation. You have to be able to create what you want to communicate in your head. This means you need all of the prior four fundamental skills working together to help you develop your idea of what you want to say/do. Having completed Information Gathering and Strategic Thinking, you should have at least a basic concept of what you want out of the negotiation. Preferably, you should not only have a basic idea, but also know what you want four, five and six mental steps ahead.

Second is message transmission. You have to move beyond what is only in your head and convert that into words or actions. The “message” can be spoken words, an e-mail/letter (or other hard copy), or can be an action (getting a signature, obtaining information, etc). Pay attention to things that can get in the way of successful transmission. Language barriers are common.  Time and Power are also components of transmission – for example, when you delay providing information to your opponent, you’re using time pressure to increase your power.

In the technical age, even a missed e-mail – or misunderstanding of humor/sarcasm/etc via e-mail, are painful reminders that different forms of communication may be better suited for the task at hand. Have you ever had someone come to your office/cube to talk with you personally? How did that help resolve an issue you were having that just didn’t seem to make sense while only being discussed in e-mails?

Last is message reception. Inasmuch as you had to formulate the message and transmit it without difficulty, the recipient needs to “decode” that message and understand what you were trying to communicate. If you’ve ever used the phrase “that’s not what I was trying to say,” you probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about. Even with the best of intentions, a message can get garbled anywhere in the communication continuum between idea and reception. So look for clues that your message isn’t being received as you intended.

Silence can be one indicator of failed reception, as humans tend to NOT indicate that they don’t understand something (they don’t want to be seen as less than perfect, especially with regards to intelligence). So ask the person you’re communicating with to communicate their understanding BACK to you. Or ask them questions to determine whether they understand what you’re trying to say.  This means that the communication process has to happen twice, but it ensures that communication was actually successful!

Of all Five Fundamental Skills, communication is probably the easiest skill on which to find training. There are literally thousands of courses, classes, workshops, and training events on communication techniques, skills and styles. Take advantage of these opportunities! But if you can’t, simply try talking/communicating more with your friends, family and co-workers. Tell them that you’d like to discuss a complex, technical idea. You’re going to educate them on this first – then ask them to talk with you about it. This means you’ll have to convert technical concepts into layperson language (assuming that your conversation partner isn’t educated about your topic). Then you’ll have to see if they understand what you’re trying to teach them by asking them questions (and seeing if they ask YOU appropriate questions – or whether they’re constantly trying to clarify what you’re saying). The lesson for you is to determine whether you’re able to move information from your head to theirs – all the way to comprehension.

Another strategy is simply watching how people already in your functional area respond to your communication behavior. Do they constantly ask you to restate what you’re trying to say, or do they seem to “get it” almost immediately? This isn’t a function of intelligence, though, in that just because you’re smart (or not) does not mean you can (or can’t) communicate what you know. Many of the best teachers are not necessarily seen as the traditionally smartest people – but they do know how to transfer information.  This makes them great communicators and excellent teachers. On the flip side, how many times have you met a really smart person who lost your attention because they didn’t grasp the fact that you did not ever understand what they were talking about.

OK, so now you have the Five Fundamental Skills for Effective Negotiation: Information Gathering, Strategic Thinking, Time Management, Power and Communication. If you can master all five, you can learn any negotiation tip, trick or hint and apply it to your situation. But remember these five – for without them, all the tactics in the world won’t help you be successful. If you leave even one of these skills “on the table” (ie: don’t master it), you will find yourself out matched when working with someone who does have these skills down pat.

For more information on these skills, including specific exercises and teaching tips on improving your skill in these areas, you can purchase the Five Fundamental Skills for Effective Negotiation workbook in either a hardcopy or downloadable format. Included are longer descriptions of the skills themselves, added training ideas, as well as a negotiation exercise designed to help use all Five Fundamental Skills in practice.  Additionally, and much to my surprise, one of my favorite blogs about negotiation, Settle It Now is using the Five Fundamental Skills to illustrate a real-world negotiation.

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