Quick. Name the top three leadership skills that define a good executive. If you didn’t mention negotiation, you’re missing a big one. Knowing how to negotiate is not only one of the most important leadership skills, it’s also one of the most empowering, according to MIT Sloan Professor Jared Curhan.
As executives and leaders, we are called upon to negotiate every day. Sometimes a negotiation is necessary to resolve a critical issue like hiring or firing a team member. Other times, it might be as mundane as deciding who will make the coffee run. Regardless of the scope of the negotiation, knowing how to negotiate is a core leadership skill and one that executives can benefit from honing. Professor Curhan says negotiation is “how we achieve things in the world. Negotiation is a potentially powerful and transformative tool. It’s something all of us do all of the time. And for many, it’s a source of control.”
What defines a successful negotiation experience?
Although we negotiate often, it might not be something we enjoy. In fact, for many people negotiating is difficult and uncomfortable. Professor Curhan explains there are several behaviors that can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful negotiation. One of the first steps in any negotiation process is to ask the right questions. Curhan says the most important question is “What don’t I know?” or, what is it that I am most worried the other person will ask? Preparing answers to these kinds of questions is a good place to start. Furthermore, Professor Curhan says the preparation for a negotiation “is 90% of the determinant of whether you will be successful in the negotiation.”
Next, says Professor Curhan, it’s important to find some common ground from which you can both begin. If there are areas where you and the other person are in agreement, you’ll be starting from a positive position and also conveying a cooperative attitude. Balance is key. “The challenge is to balance the tension between empathy and assertiveness … there are certain things you want to accomplish, but you also want to maintain the relationship.”