Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

January 1st of every year brings many personal and business resolutions — eat healthier, stop smoking, be a better boss.

In the business world, few skills will more effectively help you achieve your new resolutions than your negotiation ability.

So here are four negotiation-related resolutions for the new year:

1. Consider future possible relationships.

We often negotiate differently with our spouses and kids than with our business counterparts in highly competitive contexts. This is largely because we expect and want a future relationship with our spouses and kids and don’t envision the value in a future relationship in many competitive contexts.

Of course, we can’t foresee the future. And it’s possible — though it may appear unlikely — that we will negotiate with that counterpart again.

My advice? Stop and consider the possibility that you may run into your counterpart in some future negotiation — however unlikely. Think of its future consequences. Then adjust your negotiation behavior accordingly. If you burn that bridge now, it may come back to haunt you in the future.

And we all know someone with an incredible “I can’t believe it’s such a small world” story illustrating the interconnectedness of our society. Here’s one from a colleague of mine.

Marquette law professor Andrea Kupfer Schneider’s brother Jeff once rented a house in Washington, D.C., for the summer from a United States diplomat stationed in Egypt. Who cares about the relationship, right? Wrong.

Several years later that diplomat applied for a job with Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee. Guess who helped make the hiring decision for Northwestern? Professor Schneider’s husband.

2. Track your lessons learned.

I recently heard a story about how the U.S. military prepares combat fighter pilots for critical missions. It involves 1. Planning, 2. Briefing, 3. Executing, and 4. Debriefing.

Of these four steps, which do you think is considered the most important? Debriefing.

You can’t improve if you don’t figure out — after each of your significant negotiations — what went right and what went wrong.

As you start the new year, commit to writing down two lessons learned after each of your significant negotiations: 1. an effective strategy used, and 2. a way to improve. It may only take five minutes, but it will be time well spent.

Then calendar to review it, at the least, in December 2007. That’s one surefire way to become a more effective negotiator this year.

3. Set aggressive but realistic goals.

I consider New Year’s resolutions, in effect, to be negotiations with ourselves. We set goals for ourselves, consider our alternatives and consequences if we fail to achieve them, evaluate what’s reasonable and judge ourselves relative to our colleagues and community standards, offer ourselves benefits and incentives for achieving success, and give ourselves deadlines and a step-by-step process to help achieve them.

In this process, as in all negotiations, it’s critical to set aggressive but realistic goals. If you constantly set your goals — or New Year’s resolutions — so high you never achieve them, you will become discouraged over the long term.

This attitude will negatively affect your performance and you will start to set your goals too low.

No one wants to continually “fail.” Likewise, if you consistently set your goals too low, you won’t have sufficient motivation to achieve all you can.

How can you pick appropriately aggressive, yet realistic, goals? Tie your goals to appropriate standards. Find an objective standard or precedent or expert that provides a “fairness” baseline for your goal. Answer the question: Why would achieving this be “fair and reasonable”?

4. Protect and preserve your reputation.

In the heat of negotiations, we sometimes focus so much on achieving our immediate goals that we lose sight of a goal that should always govern our behavior — our reputation as an honest, ethical and credible negotiator.

Sure, I strive extremely hard to achieve success in every negotiation. But no matter the stakes in any one negotiation, they always pale in comparison to the value of my reputation.

After all, my reputation will impact all my future negotiations — either positively or negatively.

So commit to enhancing your reputation in the upcoming year. And remember, your reputation is not driven by what you believe occurred in your negotiations.

It’s driven by what your counterpart says about you after your negotiation ends.

Published January 5, 2007 The Business Journal

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