Australia: Have we got a deal? - developing effective negotiation skills

Last Updated: 28 March 2014

We are definitely not born as negotiators, and negotiating is not something we do naturally.

Fewer than 20% can clearly identify the key characteristic of negotiating!

Humans are born totally dependent, demanding and needy. We are definitely not born as negotiators, and negotiating is not something we do naturally. Good negotiators are made, and negotiation is a learned skill. But who do we learn from?

Matt Lohmeyer, Program Director of AGSM's Developing Effective Negotiation Skills program, is an expert in the field.

"I've been working with teams of executives for eight years, and I routinely ask people to define what they mean by negotiating", he says with a wry smile. "Fewer than 20% can clearly identify the key characteristic of negotiating! And these are people who, in their organisations, are negotiating serious deals."

Matt explains: "it's not that they are necessarily doing anything wrong. But many don't understand what to do right to get a better outcome."

And he puts that down to the fact that nobody is born a negotiator. When we're forced to begin negotiating – usually around the time when screaming and throwing yourself to the ground stops working – we learn by copying people around us. We learn on the job... out of necessity... and through trial and error.

Matt shakes his head in dismay and says "the problem is that learning on the job means we might be learning from the wrong people. In fact, sometimes the very worst!"

You won't become a better negotiator by reading books and studying theory, just like you won't become a better golfer by watching videos about Tiger Woods' technique."

He says the key to his program's success is the experiential learning factor. "Just delivering information and raising awareness is fine. But the only way to really change someone's behaviour is through repeated practice, assessment and coaching. You won't become a better negotiator by reading books and studying theory, just like you won't become a better golfer by watching videos about Tiger Woods' technique."

The program format requires participants to prepare for a series of increasingly challenging negotiations and to negotiate an outcome. "We film the entire negotiation", says Matt. "Then we replay the highlights. Where were the turning points? Why did it go left when it could have gone right? It's a unique opportunity for executives to see how they actually negotiate and what effect their style has on the flow of the negotiation and on others. And then we do it again."

Matt says learning to negotiate is about learning to control the pace and the process. "You shouldn't move too quickly through the parts that need time and care. And when it's time to move forward or to close the deal, don't miss those opportunities."

"Once you really understand the underlying structure, what is going on, when and why, then the whole process becomes easier to manage and more respectful", he says.

"Our program participants improve their negotiated outcome each time they repeat the process, and this continues after the program"

"Our program participants improve their negotiated outcome each time they repeat the process, and this continues after the program", he says.

"I love the entire coaching experience! The only thing I love more is when I get a call from someone a few weeks later saying 'guess what I've just done? I've just made an extra $400k for my client'. That is just so satisfying", he says happily.

"The other thing to realise is that negotiating is not just about money. Every deal includes many variables, such as timing, volume, quality, warranties, indemnities and who does what, when, etc. Matt stresses that his philosophy is "A better deal is available in all those areas. You just need to negotiate to achieve it."

Matt believes negotiation is such an important skill that it should be taught in secondary school. "It would be of greater use to most kids than higher maths", he says.

After so many years of coaching and negotiating in commercial environments, Matt is amazed that some companies are still reluctant about investing in skills training. "I hear some business leaders say they don't want to spend money on skills building and lose that investment as soon as that person leaves the organisation."

"I hear some business leaders say they don't want to spend money on skills building and lose that investment as soon as that person leaves the organisation."

"But what if they don't invest in skills and the person stays? They'll keep doing deals for the organisation, but they're not doing the best deals because they haven't had the best skills training. That would be a worry to me!"

"This AGSM program is as much about nurturing corporate performance and culture as it is about skill development."

"By focusing on a cooperative negotiating style and building long term relationships, we will get a better outcome. Sure, you might get a better deal in the short term by being a hard nut, but you'll do damage in the longer term", says Matt.

"The power of the program is in the experiential process. Once participants see the opportunities they're missing in a negotiation, they will begin to change even the most ingrained behaviour, and that's when the journey to become a more skilful negotiator begins."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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