At last month’s AMIA meeting, a few colleagues and I sat on a panel focused on ways to empower emerging leaders. Merida Johns led the attendees through a mindfulness exercise. Nancy Lorenzi discussed strategic thinking. Rebecca Jacobson spoke about team building. And I tackled negotiation.
I drew upon 35 years of experience as a research lab director, department head, faculty senate chair, and now, director of NLM to lay out a few ideas about negotiation as a business skill that goes beyond domain expertise to build relationships and deliver lasting, mutually agreeable solutions.
In a negotiation, two or more parties with differing perspectives and needs work to get for themselves the best outcome to a situation. These situations can range from day-to-day matters like setting project priorities to more formal transactions such as establishing your organization’s strategic direction or distributing crucial resources such as personnel or space.
While there are as many approaches to negotiation as there are negotiators, all approaches fall into two categories: distributive negotiation (also called zero-sum strategies, where a fixed resource is divided up) and integrative negotiations (also called principled negotiations, in which one works from the participants’ underlying interests along with objective criteria to craft solutions). Both strategies are useful, but ultimately, circumstances dictate which should be applied. For example, allocating a fixed federal appropriation requires using distributed negotiation skills, whereas re-aligning the research priorities of the biomedical community calls for integrative negotiation strategies.
Before entering any negotiation, it pays to be clear about your vision and mission. Together, they will help you stay true to your overall purpose and what you want to achieve through the negotiation. Then, working from this foundation, apply the following:
- Recognize the opposition.
Your opposition is just as interested in the situation as you are. Respect them for their commitment to something you also value, and use that shared interest to help you better understand their motives and behavior.
- Build your posse.
Every negotiator needs a posse, and every negotiation requires a new posse. A posse is made up of colleagues with the domain expertise, strategic mindset, and communication skills to help you make your points and stay on task. Make sure those in your posse can support your vision and mission and will hold you accountable to working toward them over the course of the negotiations.
- Know your goal.
The most worthy goal of any negotiation is to advance your mission and make your vision possible. Instead of focusing on winning the negotiation, work to resolve the situation in the manner best aligned with your vision and mission.
- Disclose judiciously and purposefully.
Communicate honestly with the opposition and foster engagement, but don’t expose your strategy, give away key points, or inadvertently reveal how flexible (or not) you can be.
- Act in a timely manner.
Negotiation is a time-limited process, and exquisite timing of engagement, conversation, and withdrawal offers significant advantage. It often helps to balance action and fresh proposals with watchful waiting, using the latter to better understand the situation and, where possible, to work with your posse to chart a pathway for success.
Through it all, remember that negotiation is about relationships. Successful negotiators maintain their colleagues’ respect and best serve their organizations by living to negotiate another day.