‘Business must tackle widespread shortage of negotiation skills’

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Negotiation skills, Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Richard Savage, director at Scotwork Negotiation, urges employers to address what recent research has revealed to be an international problem

In a world where goods and services worth more than £60 trillion are traded each year, negotiation transcends most parts of business. Despite this, it remains one of the most neglected professional skills.

A recent research report by my firm about the skills and tactics of negotiation – based on an extensive international survey of more than 5,000 executives in 51 industries – has revealed just how little effort businesses devote to doing it well.

The negotiators we surveyed readily accepted that they should be adding more value to their organisations than they were. Only 21 per cent could confirm that they always strengthened a relationship on closing a deal, while more than half admitted that they didn’t always find it easy to identify the benefits of what they had negotiated.

Such findings indicate a poor appreciation of the bigger picture, a lack of clearly defined objectives and, worse still, a limited understanding of the other side’s priorities.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Most respondents told us that they did some homework before a negotiation most or all of the time, but our study found that nearly one-third of executives didn’t always start talks with a plan B in mind, jeopardising their ability to achieve any kind of exchange. A similar proportion admitted that they rarely compiled evidence to support their arguments.

The research also enabled us to create pen portraits of what an “average” negotiator tends to do. These are helpful because they provide a starting point from which to base remedial work.

We can, for instance, say that the average negotiator is selfish. The goal of negotiation is for two or more parties to achieve consensus, but most people are far more interested in themselves than in others. They are unlikely to be flexible enough to change tack when faced with counter-proposals.

Why is it so rare for those involved in trading commercially to feel they have successfully strengthened relationships, added value or identified what the clear benefits of the agreement are? What prevents organisations from empowering their executives to make some of those choices?

We all have a responsibility to better equip our negotiators and so enable them to adapt in the fastest-moving commercial landscape we’ve ever seen.

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