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CEOs and the Fine Art of Negotiation

Should CEOs be expert negotiators or is this a skill better left to others? The answer may differ, depending on a specific company or industry, but in general, if “you are in the business world, then you need to know how to negotiate.”

This can sometimes be challenging to CEOs and business owners, accustomed to getting their own way. But being able to negotiate is something most business leaders should understand if they wish to work effectively with vendors, partners, customers and even, upon occasion, their competitors.

Here are tips to keep in mind before your next negotiating session:

Successful negotiations are not a zero-sum game. Business leaders who enter discussions with a “scorched-earth” attitude aren’t likely to succeed in their endeavors. For negotiations to truly work, everyone needs to emerge victorious in some area. Negotiating isn’t like combat or a grudge match or Game of Thrones.

Preparation is key to success. Prior to entering into talks, it’s important to gather information and learn all you can about the other party. This can be particularly effective if there’s an existing relationship and/or past history of negotiating sessions. How much do you know about what the other party wants or needs? What do they have to achieve to ensure the best outcome of negotiations? Working from a foundation of previously agreed-upon standards and commitments helps pave the way for future successes.

Talk less, listen more. Again, CEOs and business leaders are used to talking a lot at meetings, presentations, etc. In negotiations, being skillful at active listening is a far more effective tool to have. Active listening involves not just hearing what the other person says, but reading body language and other nonverbal cues to grasp a keener understanding of what the other party wants and where they may be willing to compromise.

By attempting to dominate the discussion, you can miss opportunities for a breakthrough. Whereas “if you simply stop talking and get comfortable with the awkwardness of silence, your ability to win your argument, sell the product or get a concession” can increase dramatically.

Be ready to compromise. As noted, you likely won’t succeed in negotiations if the goal is “all take, no give.” As part of your preparations, look for areas where you’re willing and able to compromise. It’s not necessary to broadcast these points ahead of time, but when the other party offers a concession, you should be ready to give up something in return. Not only does this move discussions forward, it helps foster an atmosphere of goodwill that can lead to further gains.

Finally, be sure to leave your emotions at the door. Yes, some leaders know how to fume and bluster to get what they want, but in general, unchecked emotions have no place in a negotiating session. They only make the opposing party more hostile and less inclined to give way. Entering talks with a willingness to collaborate and cooperate will more likely achieve your business goals.

Lee Polevoi, a former senior writer for Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), is a freelance writer specializing in topics concerning CEO leadership and small business. Learn more at polevoicommunications.com.

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